1980s aerobics nightmare Physical goes in circles this week as Bunny and Tyler engage in surveillance for subterfuge, John and Sheila seek outside help, and Danny gets a hard dose of reality from Wanda.
In the episode, entitled “Don’t You Want to Watch,” the Apple TV+ series falls back into a familiar rut of Sheila facing problems and somehow solving them, with too little suspense and zero empathy generated for its ghoulish cast of characters.
Physical needs a Hail Mary in the worst way.
Physical recap: ‘Don’t You Want To Watch’
Season 2, episode 5: A few months ago, a friend (played by Cory Loykasek) showed Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci) some CCTV footage from the mall that John Breem (Paul Sparks) owns. He saw John and Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne) mutually masturbating. He kept it and showed it to Bunny (Della Saba) as collateral to blackmail Sheila into giving up her burgeoning aerobics empire.
Now, they head to the mall to find John or Sheila, but locate Maria Breem (Erin Pineda) instead. They follow her for hours as she shops and shops until finally she goes back to her car and breaks down crying. Danny wants to take it easy on her, but Bunny isn’t sure that’s the wise move. After all, Bunny still has needs and desires. And being nice isn’t going to make them happen.
Sheila’s still in the doghouse with Maya (Grace Kelly Quigley) after yelling at her last week. She’s trying to be nice with her husband, Danny (Rory Scovel), but she won’t stop seeing John, either. She can’t worry about her love life too much now, though. She’s got bigger fish to fry.
Building an aerobics empire
She has a meeting with Auggie Cartwright (Wallace Langham) to discuss her ideas for brand expansion. Cookbooks, exercise equipment — the whole works. However, Auggie’s not in love with the idea of her branching out and getting bigger than his company can manage. Sheila senses that she’s losing him, so she suggests some of the stuff that fellow aerobics hustler Vincent Green (Murray Bartlett) does — infomercials, studios, all kinds of things.
Side note: Auggie is made uncomfortable by the mention of Vincent because the exercise guru is, if not gay, certainly not the kind of straight that a man like Auggie claims to be. Sheila senses this and says something about it in the voiceover. Which implies she isn’t bothered by Vincent’s sexuality, whatever it may ultimately turn out to be, which she might not be but the show has not done nearly enough to suggest that such a repellant person would be pro-gay rights in the extremely homophobic ’80s. After all, Danny’s the supposedly liberal one of them and Sheila hates everyone. This show takes too much for granted.
Greta (Dierdre Friel) and Sheila go to seek Vincent’s help with branding. Mostly he just talks at them, but he does say something interesting: Maybe it’s time to leave her contract.
John goes to see an acquaintance, too, seeking guidance from an old Mormon friend (Gerald McCullouch) from the world of business. John wants this guy to tell him it’s OK to leave his wife. While he doesn’t do that, he also knows he can’t really stop John.
Meanwhile, Danny and Wanda (Tawny Newsome) are still spending a lot of time flirting while babysitting their kids. He’s mad that he wasn’t included in the special on the Breem protests that went on TV last week but he can’t say that or he’ll seem petty.
She says to him, when he freaks out as she expected he would, that she always suspected he was a jerk. This … doesn’t track. As recently as last week’s episode of Physical, Wanda was looking at him adoringly and spending time planning to be with him. I wish like hell the show’s writers could learn some consistency. This reminds me, in all the worst ways, of Maya Hawke spending ten minutes talking about how much she loves Joe Keery on Stranger Things, only to come out as a lesbian immediately afterwards. Bad writing shouldn’t get to be a red herring.
Is that safe, babe?
Bunny and Danny blackmailing Sheila should be … something, I guess? Exciting? Suspenseful? It mostly just reads as annoying. Della Saba’s petulant, high-pitched performance as Bunny would work in drawing her as Sheila’s nemesis, except we spend almost as much time with Bunny as we do with Sheila. So the character simply being a different shade of unbearable doesn’t help the show become any easier to swallow.
Sheila being such a dreadful person and not fun to identify with — further hampered by the fact that she isn’t at all believable — means that watching her get railroaded isn’t even that satisfying. We know she’s not going anywhere and they aren’t about to throw her in the gutter. (That’s her face on the poster, after all.)
Despite the show’s purported aim to show a complicated character, Physical can’t afford to let Sheila lose. Not really, because the show’s still nominally about a woman breaking free of male power structures. If she fails to do that then the shows fails at its own stated aims. So we just have to watch as she comes up against one obnoxious roadblock after another and finds a way to outmaneuver them.
It’s not just predictable, it’s cloying and dull. I need this show to throw us a meteor or a serial killer or something. This week’s episode wove in a left-field plot thread about John meeting on a boat with a character we don’t know to discuss something he was going to do anyway.
Scintillating, I’m sure.
Unfortunately, Physical stays in the same corner every week. And that’s just not good enough.
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.