This week on Apple TV+ aerobics opera Physical, its star self-help guru buys a whiteboard and the show itself backslides. After a promising showing last week, Physical reverts to its worst tendencies.
Danny is still unbearably pretentious and selfish. Sheila is still a misanthropic jerk to absolutely everybody. John is becoming more desperate by the minute. And Greta indulges in a threesome. None of this constitutes real news or development on this show. But since Physical doesn’t really know what it wants to say, this is just how it goes most weeks.
Physical recap: ‘Don’t You Know’
Season 2, episode 4: In this week’s episode, titled “Don’t You Know,” Sheila (played by Rose Byrne) wakes up from a dream where she and workout guru Vincent Green (Murray Bartlett) are in business together, shooting a commercial. (This is bad bad form, by the way. It looks nothing like an ’80s commercial. From the too-modern blue screen to the sitcom shooting style, this is pure laziness. Doesn’t Craig Gillespie produce this show? I, Tonya was nothing but bad fake old camcorder footage. But he didn’t think twice about this?)
It’s a nightmare, but it does get Sheila’s wheels spinning. She does need help. Her husband Danny (Rory Scovel) is very little help because he’s so absorbed in his own life and desires (including another child, which Sheila has made very clear she does not want.)
So, Greta (Dierdre Friel) comes over to help her brainstorm instead. Greta and her husband, Ernie (Ian Gomez), have been swinging, and he lets this slip in front of Danny. Ernie obviously hopes Danny will talk Sheila into it. Greta isn’t sure she loves the idea, but she’s fixated on it — and shares with Sheila that it happened.
More attempted philandering
Meanwhile, John (Paul Sparks) is getting restless. He calls Sheila while at choir practice with Maria (Erin Pineda), but Danny answers. Danny’s starting to suspect that the “cable guy” who keeps calling is no such thing but it’s not like he’s got much room to complain. He’s also got a roving eye. He’s been palling around with activist mom Wanda (Tawny Newsome), who clearly has a crush on him, too.
He and Wanda have been protesting John’s development, making him crazier than usual. He starts following Sheila, and catches her in her binge-eating ritual at the motel, thinking she’s seeing someone else. They patch things up. Sheila needed the relief. She’s so tightly wound she snaps at Maya (Grace Kelly Quigley). Danny surprises her with a nice gesture, though, and suddenly Sheila feels bad.
Even as this unfolds, the Cartwrights know Sheila is out of commission and they are looking for any excuse to pull their funding from her aerobics empire. Worried that they’ll take her absence as the wrong kind of sign, she reaches out to Bunny (Della Saba) to see if she’ll replace her at her next few engagements.
Bunny’s offended, but she can’t pass up the cash. However, when Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci) finds out she took the money, he’s offended on her behalf. He suggests they use blackmail to get back at Sheila. He knows she’s been stepping out on Danny. Wouldn’t that hurt both her empire and his political career?
One more chance
Every time I think Physical makes a step in the right direction, it sashays six or seven back. This episode was just infuriating. Sheila snapping at Maya reminds us that she is a hugely unpleasant human, and Danny is even worse. And we’re stuck with them.
Worse still, the show’s writers don’t know how deep in the hole they’re putting themselves. Sheila at the best of times is a character that is no fun whatsoever to be with. They give her these little moments of reflection that are meant to put all of this into some very neat context, but nothing resembling rehabilitation happens.
The ending of this episode was so offensively puerile, with John holding Sheila after she admits the show’s thesis out loud (smooth) and says she’s just another person when she’s in the motel binge-eating. So this other monster — who’s stepping out on his wife (whom he hates), who sells out his kids to cover up his lies — this guy is the real tender figure in Sheila’s life.
Except, wait, there’s more.
How to waste a solid song
“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie starts playing. The editors cut around in the song, so they didn’t even really want the song, so much as they wanted its climax to give the last three minutes of the episode extra power — which backfires, because the song ends before the credits do. So then they just flip by for two silent minutes like a janitor cleaning up the stage before the curtain has fallen.
Then Sheila goes home and sees Danny has filled the whiteboard with ideas that Maya accidentally erases. The look on her face, tears in her eyes, unbidden admiration lining her face, says, “Oh wow, my husband did something nice, I feel bad for running around on him.”
Except she shouldn’t because he’s the worst, most condescending scumbag in Los Angeles and she should leave him. Or, I don’t know, maybe they actually deserve each other.
I know one thing: I cannot stand watching them. Something’s gotta give here, man. I am all out of patience with Physical.
Watch Physical on Apple TV+
New episodes of Physical’s second season arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
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.