Rose Byrne executive produces and stars in the Apple TV+ series “Physical.” This is a complex story that includes politics, eating disorders, marital relationships and, yes, aerobics.
Sheila (Byrne) is a devoted wife and mother who put her schooling and life on hold for her family. Her college professor husband Danny (Rory Scovel) is fired and the couple decide that he should make a run for political office. Their Berkeley “hippie” philosophies still hold true. “Stick it to the man” is a philosophy they still both share, or do they?
Sheila secretly binges and purges. She is constantly talking to herself in her head disparaging her looks, her life and everything else. She is skinny but thinks she is fat. This over-talk, runs throughout the series as every time Sheila comes up against anything troubling, she tells herself she is a bad person, a fat person, an ugly person, etc.
Byrne was asked about bulimia when she met virtually with the media. “There is no exclusive person, there is no rule of who or who doesn’t feel like this, or has personal demons, no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you’re from, or anything,” Byrne said. “So I think that’s a big part of what Shelia is dealing with and what the show deals with really beautifully.”
Sheila happens upon an aerobics class and immediately is taken by the upbeat exercise and the powerful lift it gives to the women in the class. She befriends the owner/instructor and maneuvers herself into becoming an instructor.
“In a way, the aerobics aspect of it is so physical — not to make a pun — but it really is that it gets you out of your head because I’m so focused on trying to do the moves or the choreography and so on and so forth, it’s actually quite liberating, weirdly,” Byrne explained. “And I can see why Shelia and many women — I had never really done aerobics that much, so I can see why it is so addictive and empowering and all those sorts of things.”
Before long, Sheila is talking her boss into making a video, and all the while keeping all of this a secret from her family. Then things spiral out of control and soon, well, you’ll have to watch the show for what happens next.
As for the times in which this story is set, Byrne said, “Sheila is a young woman but definitely has come up through the ’60s and ’70s, so she’s sort of a child of that movement and yet she’s become quite disillusioned by it, I think under the surface. And this is really following sort of a feminist from that time and discovering her real source of empowerment is to have financial independence, to have economic independence and so on and so forth, but she has no agency, and she has no way to do that. And it’s still a very challenging time for women to find that independence. And it doesn’t necessarily come from the feminist movement of that time in all ways. So it was a really, really kind of beautiful, timely piece for me personally in that way in terms of discovering characters. And so the ‘80s, I knew a little bit about it but not much. I was born in ‘79 so I was obviously very little. So it’s been fascinating to really explore that.”
“Physical” is a throwback to the 1980s, the Reagan era, the start of the aerobics craze, and more. The wardrobe and hairstyles reflect that time. It’s a fun way to rediscover the past while also looking at the lives of several complex characters. The show streams on Apple TV+.