Physical recap: Apple TV+ show just can’t make aerobics look interesting

Physical just can’t make aerobics look interesting [Apple TV+ recap]

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Physical recap: An aerobics demo goes wrong for Sheila (played by Rose Byrne) this week.★★☆☆☆
An aerobics demo goes wrong for Sheila (played by Rose Byrne) this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

Physical, Apple TV+’s series about a fitness pioneer and the collection of damaged people in her orbit, hits the fairgrounds for a protest, a demonstration and a cat fight this week. Dramatic stasis and some awkward meetings fill a rootless episode of the enervating drama.

Unfortunately, there’s just no getting around the hollow center of this show: Aerobics don’t make good TV.

Physical recap: ‘Don’t You Ever Stop’

Season 2, episode 2: In this week’s episode, titled “Don’t You Ever Stop,” John Breem (played by Paul Sparks) and his wife (Erin Pineda) are not getting along. Sheila (Rose Byrne) spends most of her time thinking about sleeping with him when she should be working, and John’s almost certainly doing the same in reverse.

His family life is a closely controlled and stifling thing. John’s not the only one thinking about Sheila, either. Bunny (Della Saba), who stole one of Sheila’s tapes from the furniture store and can’t stop watching it, agonizes over the fact that producers like Sheila and not her. Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci) tells Bunny not to obsess, but it’s too late. Sheila stole her dream. And that’s going to haunt Bunny until she beats Sheila somehow.

Danny (Rory Scovel) joined Greta’s (Dierdre Friel) parents committee and immediately gets bored looking after the kids, self-absorbed scumbag that he is. One of the other moms, Wanda (Tawny Newsome), catches his eye immediately, and the kids take a back seat.

Wanda tells Danny she joined the committee because she knew he would be there. No one else she knows is passionate about changing the world. But a politician? She could talk to a politician. Danny’s ego can’t resist. Soon they’re planning to go to a protest, with all the kids in tow.

A demo at the amusement park

John goes out to see Sheila’s demonstration at a local amusement park and runs into his son Zeke (Ian Ousley), whose girlfriend is with him. Zeke did not tell John or Maria about this girl, petrified that his religious parents wouldn’t approve. John realizes he’s breaking several commandments himself and lets it slide.

Bunny approaches Sheila at her demonstration and attacks her in front of Sheila’s producer, Auggie Cartwright (Wallace Langham). Bunny accuses Sheila of stealing her routines. The bosses doesn’t like that. They warn Sheila that more mess of this kind will spell trouble for the endeavor. They might pull funding out from under her.

John leaves the fair to go to a ribbon-cutting ceremony, where Danny happens to be protesting, so he sees when Danny gets arrested. He takes Maya (Grace Kelly Quigley) home to Sheila’s house, shocking her. Sheila sends Maya to bed, and John starts in on the psychological seduction. She does eventually get him to leave before they end up screwing on the kitchen table because the phone rings. Her father (Ray Wise) is dead.

A slew of unlikeable characters

There’s just nothing here to get excited about. Danny is a cartoonishly bad guy, so it’s not like we’re rooting for him to either patch things up with Sheila or get it on with Wanda.

Sheila’s no better, admitting to herself again that she did steal from Bunny and shouldn’t have the things she has.

John is maybe the worst of all of them, developing land to make money and raise his family terribly while saving a weird fundamentalist sex drive for a woman who isn’t his wife, whose drawn as a hysterical shrew by the Physical writers.

Bunny is represented only by her selfishness and jealousy, having only been introduced as a hyper-mean mirage instead of a fully fleshed-out person.

This is a show filled with unpleasant people. I don’t love it here.

The problem with watching aerobics

The show’s photography is nice, and the music is always perfectly pleasant. Butit just isn’t any fun at all to spend time with the characters on Physical. There’s still a nagging feeling that the aerobics — the central physical motif of this show — should have started to look interesting, or at least be shot in a way that fools us into thinking so.

The awkwardness of the movements, and Rose Byrne’s apologetic expression while going through the motions, make it seem like torture, not something anyone would willingly do to themselves.

We’ve figured out how to make many, many odd physical activities look cinematic over the years but there’s a reason there aren’t, say, aerobics channels on DirectTV that you know by name. Or aerobics stars other than Jane Fonda. Or aerobics movies other than the rather ironically named Perfect, a 1985 flick starring John Travolta.

This thing just does not work on camera. Never has, and until someone proves me wrong, I’m just going to continue to believe that hinging a show on the sight of exercise was a bad idea.

A war for cosmetics would at least have played into the idea of TV or film production as a gathering of false faces. Aerobics just are not interesting to look at. If the thing your hero does is uninteresting, you’d better present everything else around this central activity as unmissable. That also has not happened. Physical is a dancer in search of a song.

Also, this isn’t as big an issue, but Sheila calls herself a “ho” this week, a word I don’t think had infiltrated polite white California society by the early ’80s. Where would she have heard that? Careless.

★★☆☆☆

Watch Physical on Apple TV+

New episodes of Physical’s second season arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.