The new black comedy “Physical,” starring Rose Byrne, is hard work and out of focus with nothing to say.
The new series Physical, which debuts on June 18, is one of the big flops of the Apple TV + era. It’s an aggressively obnoxious show full of boring characters, actively hideous, or both.
That is not all Physical, created by Annie Weisman, is considerably more cynical and petty than most Apple TV + has published to date. It’s that there is no reward, and the show clearly has nothing to say. The show’s main plot is bad, while its side plots are even worse.
It’s just a series of comprehensive punishment, without any catharsis waiting at the end.
Fixing the matter
Byrne, the former star of Damages and a long series of movies, it comes from a well-received twist as Gloria Steinem in last year’s Hulu miniseries. Lady america.
The actress stars Physical as Sheila Rubin, a depressed housewife in 1981 in San Diego. Sheila, married to a seedy college professor (comedian Rory Scovel), is also secretly bulimic, which for her involves a ritual of checking into a motel, stripping, bingeing, and purging.
Faced with the loss of her husband’s job and his inexplicable twist to run for political office, Sheila discovers aerobic exercise. Some flashforwards imply that he will eventually ride that ’80s craze to fame and fortune, using then-nascent VHS technology.
But if you thought Physical It would serve as the origin story of a cute and badass boss, that’s not what this show is at all. Instead, the series is a character study of a deeply troubled individual. Many of the best TV shows of all time, from The sopranos down, they’ve been exactly that, but Physical it just can’t make this character interesting.
This is one of those shows where the plot would resolve much more quickly if only the protagonist had found a good therapist.
For most of the show, we hear Byrne engaging in a continuous voice-over commentary, mostly showing her own self-hatred, but occasionally directing petty sarcasm at most of the other characters. This includes her friend (Dierdre Friel), a character who fears her husband (Ian Gomez) is cheating on her. This “self-talk” device becomes very old, very quickly.
For a show billed as “black comedy”, Physical It’s rarely funny, unless you think 80’s fashions and technologies are inherently fun. Byrne has been very good at several comedy movies, especially Neighbours other Bridesmaids, but this program doesn’t give you anything fun to do.
The show also doesn’t land any satirical punches, nor does it have anything remarkable to say on any of its subjects, be it the ’80s, aerobics, eating disorders, self-help craze, modern marriage, or local politics.
The election subplot, in particular, is a huge waste of time. The show never really makes it clear what it’s trying to say about how elections work or about California politics in the early Reagan era specifically. Ronald Reagan isn’t even mentioned until a later episode when Danny gives an incongruously cocky speech that sounds like a half-hearted tribute to Aaron Sorkin’s work.
The apparent conclusions of the political plot – that politics is a cynical game, campaign finance is sordid and corrupt, and that any idiot can succeed as a candidate – are far from groundbreaking. I suppose there is supposed to be a parallel of Scovel and Byrne’s characters with Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, a powerful couple from the same time when the husband was a college activist turned California state politician, and his wife was a star in the world of videotaped workouts.
The more important question is why such a parallel is necessary.
The show establishes that the characters are Berkeley alumni who don’t fit in as well in more conservative San Diego. But if the idea is to represent ex-hippies who were once idealists clashing with the reality of adulthood and the America of the 80s, that has been done before, quite a bit. It was the subject of an entire work in the 80s, especially the 1983 film The great chill.
That’s not all that goes wrong in Physical. There are unnecessary subplots about a video camera theft, a surfer (Lou Taylor Pucci) facing the premature end of his surfer career, and the midlife crisis of an executive (Paul Sparks). The series uses needle drops from 1980s pop songs to an almost distracting degree. Craig Gillespie, a director infamous for doing the same in his films Me tonya other Cruella, is an executive producer and directed the pilot.
Another problem is that there is no sense of place. Aside from an occasional scene showing the beach, it never really matters that the series is set in San Diego.
Done better before
In 2019, there was a show on Showtime called On becoming a god in central Florida. That series, starring Kirsten Dunst, was set in the early 1990s and was about a woman who launched a shady multi-level marketing plan and poked fun at the titular men at their own game. It was another show that offered a cynical look at the American dream, along with fashions from another decade and the casting of an actress for the lead role who often stars in movies.
On becoming GodHowever, he managed to do most of the things that Physical tried and failed to do. The difference, however, was that the haze show had a real point of view, and even managed to be funny from time to time.
Part of the appeal of Apple TV + is that it features all kinds of different shows, and there really is no standard definition of what an Apple show looks and feels like.
But at a time when Ted lasso has started to emerge as the service’s flagship program, and with Tim Cook praising its positive spirit in keynotes and earnings calls, it’s a bit shocking to see another 30-minute series arrive that is everything spirit isn’t. .
If Apple TV + subscribers are looking for a different feel-good half-hour show to spend time watching while waiting for the return of Ted lasso in a few weeks, a rude awakening awaits them with Physical, which is more or less the exact opposite.
PhysicalThe first season runs for ten episodes, each about 30 minutes long, the first three debuting on June 18 and one a week until August 6. The second season renewal has not been announced.