AppleTV+ has been churning out some pretty good content regularly since its inception, and it is giving other channels and their OTT platforms a run for their money. In the lineup of dark comedies that viewers have watched in the past few years, Physical, created by Annie Weisman, is a good addition to the genre because it pushes the boundaries of how female-led stories can be conveyed vividly. The first and second seasons were released in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and we are waiting for the upcoming third season. Before that, let us understand what we witnessed in the last two seasons of Physical.
Set in the 1980s in San Diego, America, the show begins with a shot of Sheila getting ready for her televised aerobics show, which indicates that she is already a successful fitness instructor. The story takes the viewers back to 1981 when Sheila is a housewife running the household like clockwork, and everything seems perfect from the outside. But it is not. Sheila is an unhappy mother stuck in a marriage, and by the looks of it, she suffers from bulimia and other severe mental health issues that she has not taken seriously yet. Physical is about an era where a lot of important health aspects, such as eating disorders and mental instability, were never discussed by the families, even though they claimed themselves to be modern.
Sheila’s husband, Danny Rubin, loses his job at the university, and since both had a rebellious streak inside of them since their college days with a touch of socialism that never left them, he plans to stand for the local state assembly election in the hope of saving the coast from becoming a hub for rampant development. The beginning of the 1980s saw the rise of the Reagan era, which was fighting communism and socialism tooth and nail, and this show projects how both ideologies were looked down upon, and it seemed the causes they stood up for people weren’t gravitated towards it.
Standing for elections will mean they have to put in a lot of capital. Danny thinks they can tap into all their savings, but he does not know Sheila has been harboring a horrible secret from everybody. She has a routine where she spends a great deal of their money on junk food which she then heads to a local motel to indulge in, right before she throws the food back up. This is exactly how bulimia is described, and Sheila has been suffering from this disorder, by the looks of it, for many years. She has an inner voice that is constantly criticizing her, and the woman is neck-deep in body image issues and insecurities, which she has shared with practically nobody.
As Danny is busy gathering a following and building momentum for his election, Sheila follows an aerobics instructor, Bunny Kazam, and her boyfriend, Tyler. Sheila seems to be drawn to aerobics as if it is her calling. Within a few classes with Bunny, Sheila gathers enough confidence to become an instructor and wants to expand on how they can monetize this form of exercise further. Tyler, a surfing enthusiast followed by an amateur director, can see through Sheila’s vision to record her and Bunny’s routine and sell it on VHS to many homemakers who have no time to head to any gym. This idea of rigorous aerobic exercise feeds on the body image issues that women had in that era.
Danny hires his best friend from college, Jerry Goldman, as his campaign manager without realizing there is no money left to put into the campaign. Sheila’s constant lies and hiding things from people, especially her husband, only make the situation worse for her as the days go by. She and Jerry almost have different opinions on how to proceed with gathering support. But somehow, they find a balance.
Just like Sheila, Greta Hauser is a fellow parent too, and she tries to seek a friend in her. Sheila is initially too preoccupied with her issues to deal with Greta. On realizing she comes from a family of deep pockets, she befriends her and her husband, Ernie, in the hope of getting some money for the campaign. Sheila comes across as a selfish person, and Greta can see through her lies. This makes both vulnerable at a certain point, and soon they become good friends. Sheila was a victim of sexual harassment, and her mother, who was supposed to be her pillar of support, refused to deal with it, which made her subconsciously not trust anyone, including her husband.
As Sheila, Bunny, and Tyler are on the verge of launching their own VHS tapes, her bankruptcy is discovered by Jerry, which puts her on the back foot, forcing her to abandon her plans and stay by Danny’s side. She finally reveals her plan to use the VHS to the campaign’s advantage; it is only Sheila who is not rejected everywhere, and Bunny, Tyler, and Danny become mere spectators. Danny loses the election, and Sheila goes back to the only thing that has saved her, which is aerobics, as she is pursued by a local VHS home video company that is keen to sign her on. Sheila ends up having a torrid affair with John Breem, who happens to be her husband’s rival. It seems like the two of them had a lot going on on the home front, which probably made them seek each other out for the pleasure they don’t get from their spouses.
Sheila makes it very clear at the beginning of Physical Season 2 that she hates Danny, and he finds a way to make it up to her by stepping back so that she can be the breadwinner and can fly high wherever her aerobics career takes her. Danny is uncomfortable being a stay-at-home dad, and his activism work takes off once again, only for him to be sidelined by one of the members of his group for good. Sheila is forced to get out of the deal with her VHS home video company because an embarrassing video of her gets leaked, thanks to herself. This was her way of getting out of the business deal with those who were pushing her around for something she did not want for herself.
Danny, on the other hand, tries a lot to help Sheila get over her bulimia, but she herself is not willing to let anyone help her. Her inner critic is almost like a bully, which she is trying hard to get rid of. Danny and Sheila finally decided to separate because there was nothing left to make their marriage work. Danny asks for half of her business as a settlement, but Sheila is adamant about not giving him any part of it. This allows Danny to come up with an idea to challenge his wife. Bunny and Tyler lose everything because of Sheila’s selfish moves, and they can’t seem to find a way to sustain themselves.
Bunny is obsessed with Sheila, and she is unable to find a way to corner her for stealing what was hers. Danny finds an unexpected ally in them and develops a new show on aerobics to counter Sheila by giving a chance to a much younger sitcom star Kelly Kilmartin. Sheila heads to John Breem asking him for help in the upcoming battle between her and Danny. The show is slowly going to become a bitter fight between the husband and wife, and the two will try to upstage each other, followed by plenty of mudslinging. Season 3 will be interesting to watch.