Apple TV+ review: Physical
James R | On 18, Jun 2021
Is there anything Rose Byrne can’t do? Apple TV+ might unwittingly have found the answer, as this showcase for the Bridesmaids, Mrs America and X-Men star finds her unable to redeem the underwhelming script.
The 10-part series tells the story of Sheila (Byrne), a housewife in 1980s America who is struggling through marriage to Danny (Rory Scovel), her long-time sweetheart. A former hippy disillusioned with how adult life has turned out, while her college professor husband spends more time studying his students than text books, she finds a sense of self-fulfilment and escape in the 80s fitness craze – and so the stage is set for a transformation of her life, self and self-esteem by becoming a motivational gym instructor.
Unfortunately, it’s an arc that plays out slowly and, crucially, without much entertainment. That’s partly because Sheila’s surrounded by not particularly engaging people, from the enigmatic exercise veteran Bunny (Della Saba) to Danny’s friend, Jerry (Geoffrey Arend), not to mention mall tycoon John Breem (Paul Sparks) and Bunny’s video camera-wielding sidekick, Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci). None of them have very interesting storylines, whether it’s local politics or the non-friendship that forms between Sheila and the pitiable Greta (Dierdre Friel).
The latter, tellingly, is the only one who you actually feel sorry for, in what emerges as a tapestry of hollow aspirations and women being overlooked by self-loathing men. But if that starts to sound like an intriguing idea trading in timely notions of sexism and class divides, Physical disappointingly fails to capitalise on it at all, which leaves every subplot feeling like a distraction from its leading lady.
But alas, even she is shafted by the screenplay, which gives her an acerbic voiceover to guide us through the bitter dismantling of American dreams. It cuts through every notion of fitness and well-being, but becomes so forcefully negative that it saps any irony or energy out of the whole show. Directors including Craig Gillespie drop familiar 80s pop hits all over the shop to keep thing stylish, but that only highlights the ill-judged tone and overwhelming lack of fun. There’s a rags-to-riches story of self-actualisation buried in here somewhere, but no matter how much effort Byrne puts into it, the series runs out of steam. Motivational? Quite the opposite.
Physical is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.