In this week’s episode of Physical, Apple TV+’s death trip in spandex pumps the brakes to reconsider its priorities.
Aerobics star Sheila breaks her contract, reconnecting with Danny and Greta as she plots her next big move. But she remains selfish at heart, so nothing goes quite the way any of them had planned. Meanwhile, John and Maria plot one last attempt at salvation.
This week’s episode, titled “Don’t Try This at Home,” delivers some of the highest highs of the season, but still manages to blow a commanding lead in the home stretch.
Physical recap: ‘Don’t Try This at Home’
Season 2, episode 7: Sheila Rubin (played by Rose Byrne) is on trial. Auggie Cartwright (Wallace Langham) and his board of directors have watched the security tape of her and John Breem (Paul Sparks) masturbating, and are terminating her contract, which is exactly what she wanted.
She then approaches Greta (Dierdre Friel) and asks her to be her business partner. Greta’s elated and goes home to celebrate with enthusiastic sex with Ernie (Ian Gomez).
Sheila, on the other hand, goes home to work out and clear her head. Her husband Danny (Rory Scovel) suggests she go to a facility to get help for her eating disorder. Instead, she says he needs to get out of her way.
For the first time, he listens and starts working out with her. It clicks them into place for the first time in forever. She admits to sleeping with John, and Danny forgives her, especially because she says the affair’s over. So they get stoned and start brainstorming ideas for the brand.
A new beginning?
They get on the same page about the future and Danny, feeling hopeful and recharged, suggests that he come on board as an investor in Sheila’s lifestyle company. She’s excited by this, but when she tells Greta, they blow up at each other. Greta has been hearing forever that Danny is an insufferable loser and a selfish jerk to Sheila. For her to get high one night and then immediately forget all that is exactly as irresponsible and stupidly impulsive as Greta implies.
Just when Sheila’s feeling low, she gets a call from John. John had, at his wife Maria’s (Erin Pineda) bedside, confessed to the infidelity with Sheila. But Maria cut him off and told him to man up. When Sheila shows up at their hotel room expecting some kind of confrontation, she’s taken off-guard by the appearance of Maria, hiding in the bathroom. (It’s just 12 hours after Maria was released from the hospital, in a rather cartoony development, but the whole scene is meant to be cartoony, so whatever. I’ll let it slide.)
Maria’s there to ask Sheila to repent and ask God for forgiveness. Sheila’s response to all of this? Run away.
Doesn’t she know this is a family company?
The stuff with Danny and Sheila exercising together is the best Physical has been. Not to give everybody too much credit — the writers scored the scene to “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk, so it’s not like it’s just the writing and performances that sell the scene. But it was genuinely touching to see these two self-involved maniacs actually break through to each other for once.
I was really in this show’s corner for a solid 10 minutes. But then it backslid into the usual parade of cynicism by having Sheila take this nice night with her husband and use it as a cudgel to deal a blow to Greta’s ego and confidence. Sheila was fun to root for for about 10 seconds. Then went right back to being the most obnoxious character on TV.
That’s what I get for letting my guard down.
On Sheila’s confusing sexuality
One of the continuing little annoyances of this show is its too-contemporary ideas about Sheila’s sexuality. It’s great that Sheila is written as a forward-thinking woman with a healthy sexual appetite and complete control over it, despite all the other areas of her life. I’m not convinced this is an accurate portrayal of someone born in 1955, but I’m not going to say it’s unrealistic, either. It just feels like Sheila comes from a post-Sex and the City continuum.
What bothers me is that Sheila is written as a kind of crass and brassy modern woman, but her sexuality is also depicted as way too normal. We know she’s having rough-ish sex (or at least immediate, passionate sex) with John. And we’ve seen her publicly masturbate with him, a willing partner.
I suppose to some people that’s a little out of the ordinary, but also we’ve seen Danny and Sheila get a little uncomfortable when Ernie and Greta asked them to have a threeway. It just does not play at all that, for instance, Sheila rolls her eyes at the idea of the men on Cartwright’s board being grossed out by the concept of masturbating like she’s a thousand times more worldly than they are.
There needs to either be some indication that Sheila isn’t on her high horse about just having missionary and oral sex and the one-time, not-quite-public display of self-pleasuring with a married man (which even John’s wife overlooks when he confesses to her). We need some sense of what the show’s ceiling for sexual morality is. If philandering Danny is OK with the idea of Sheila’s affair, then where does the unearned satisfaction come from on Sheila’s part?
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.