Review: Rose Byrne drama 'Physical' muses on inequality with 1980s aerobics craze

Physical (Photo: AppleTV+)

4 out of 5 Stars
Annie Weisman
Starring: Rose Byrne, Dierdre Friel, Rory Scovel
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated: TV-MA

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Synopsis: Sheila is in a thankless marriage with Danny, a man who wants to be a progressive politician but lacks the motivation to make a difference. Tired of her husband’s failure to meet expectations and her own personal trauma, Sheila searches for a way to free herself. She discovers aerobics.

Review: Sheila (Rose Byrne) is far too critical of herself. Danny (Rory Scovel), her husband, is incapable of being critical of himself. He has ambitions that he could never obtain on his own. Sheila has the drive but is undercut by the social and economic politics of the 1980s. In a desperate bid to pull herself above her personal trauma and a general sense of dissatisfaction, Sheila discovers aerobics.

I wouldn’t call “Physical” a “comedy.” Not even a “dark comedy.” The problem is that the 1980s were absurd and it is nearly impossible to tell a story about a woman who seeks redemption through aerobics without a little bit of a wink. I should know, I was there. Sort of. In 1986 I would have been ten years old. My mother was swept up in the aerobics fad and I remember watching from the sidelines befuddled by a room full of dolled-up women exercising to the sounds of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” It was the animated realm of a-ha’s “Take on Me” shoehorned into the real world. It was madness in the best sense of the word.

“Physical” isn’t really about aerobics. It is the examination of the glass ceiling that women were still forced to live beneath in the 1980s. Sheila would prefer to be Bud Fox, the Michael Douglas character from “Wall Street,” but she lacks the required appendage. Unable to advance through her incompetent husband, Sheila uses her sex appeal and determination (a willingness to lie, cheat and steal) to forge a place for herself in the world.

Sheila isn’t particularly likable. She’s cold, arrogant, dismissive and unmoved by the damage she leaves in her wake. She hates herself nearly as much as she is disappointed in her husband. She’s not exactly a villain and certainly not a hero. Caught somewhere in between, Sheila is a compelling character that benefits from the fact that we naturally want to love anyone who is played by Rose Byrne.

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