What to Watch Verdict
It has been a rocky start for 'Physical,' but Sheila makes a much-needed leap in the strongest episode so far.
💃🏻The inner monologue isn't as vocal as the previous episodes.
💃🏻Shelia takes some control thanks to a terrible houseguest.
💃🏻Finding out more information about Shelia's past.
💃🏻The way Sheila wears her leotard under her regular clothes to give a Superman-like reveal.
💃🏻The John Breem flirtation.
💃🏻Not one but at least two awful men that Sheila now has to contend with.
This post contains spoilers for Physical "Let's Get This Party Started.”
Read our latest review here.
In the opening episodes of Apple TV+’s new dramedy Physical, it is quickly established that Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne) is at war with herself. She can plaster on a toothy grin, but the raging voice inside her head is quick to unleash a torrent of abuse at anyone who steps into her path. The worst comments are aimed at the face looking back in the mirror and warmth is lacking in the Rubin household. Thankfully, these remarks are dialed down a notch in “Let’s Get This Party Started” and while this inner monologue chips away, it is not as deafening. Not only is she using aerobics to channel some of the pent-up anger, but her husband’s inability to comprehend what an asset she is, gives her a chance to burn off some steam.
Danny (Rory Scovel) is not a perceptive guy when it comes to looking outside of his own bubble. He was unaware that he was going to get fired from his job at the university (despite being warned) and now his campaign is only giving him more reasons to think about himself. At the end of Episode 3, his daughter Maya (Grace Kelly Quigley) woke up screaming because of an ear infection, and he had no idea where his wife was. The next day, Shelia explains that she was at the 24-hour pharmacy picking up medication, and he doesn’t challenge this excuse — in reality, she was at the aerobics studio. When Sheila tells him she is running errands and therefore he has to look after Maya, he barely has a chance to agree before she has flown out of the door. When he did accompany her during the daily housewife routine in “Let’s Get Political,” he could barely keep his attention on her, instead, choosing to flirt with college-age young women. Sheila can get away with living a double life as his gaze is occupied by so many other things.
“Let’s Get the Party Started” is the best episode to date and not only because Shelia’s inner-critic pipes down for a moment. The arrival of Danny’s old college friend Jerry Goldman (Geoffrey Arend) is the catalyst that pushes her toward a dream that does not involve her husband. Jerry arrives under the guise of becoming Danny’s campaign manager and immediately causes a divide in the Rubin home. He has political and activism bona fides, but Shelia is quick to point out that is in liberal San Francisco — Jerry later refers to their city as "Reagan San Diego". He calls her "Tequila Sheila" and will happily sniff her hair (it smells like “pineapple and lady parts”) and paw at her body while making less than subtle digs about her rich girl past. Rose Byrne does this deep inhalation when she hears Jerry's presence that points to how much Sheila loathes him, and everything we need to know about their dynamic is spelled out in an instant.
Beyond Sheila’s academic dreams, this is the first we hear about the disparate upbringings of this couple. For those viewers who also tuned into Apple TV+’s The Mosquito Coast, there is a similarity between Shelia and Melissa George’s mysterious Margot Fox. Both women are from conservative families and their choice of partner went against what was expected of them. Set several decades apart, another through-line is the world they have given up for their husband and while Sheila’s life involves a less murky background, frustration runs through both of their veins. Danny quips that part of Shelia only brought him to that fancy golf club because he was a “liberal Jew” who reeked of pot (or “Maui Wowie” as Danny calls it) and she wanted to piss her parents off. There is a rebellion factor to the origins of this relationship and the events in this episode reveal that while Sheila has moved on from youthful dalliances, Danny has regressed back to this state.
The country club conversation stems from the event they have been invited to by the Hausers, and while sucking up to rich people is not high on Sheila’s list of things she would like to do, she’s willing to plaster on that happy smile for the campaign. Of course, she is also trying to make up for the non-existent savings she has spent, and any distraction from the cash she is meant to have is helpful. It should be noted that when Jerry asks how long the Shore Club has let Jewish people step foot on its property, Sheila’s answer of “seven years” is not a joke, and the issue with this traditional setting isn’t only because Jerry wants to stick it to the man. Racism and bigotry are part of the fabric of these elite institutions, and this compromise is hard to swallow.
Jerry’s reluctance stems from a valid place, but he is also tiresome in other areas and two things can be true at once. He reminds Danny that he needs to hold onto his “integrity” and asking for handouts from rich assholes is not keeping with this mandate. “Jerry keeps me honest,” Danny tells Sheila, and by honest he means “high.” Shelia makes her way to the Shore Club party that is set to coincide with the Grunion run —the time of year when horny fish come to shore to spawn on the beaches — and has made plans to meet Danny at the venue. This was her first mistake as Danny stalls at the beach with Jerry before they run into Simone (Ashley Liao) and some other college kids who invite them to their less formal beach bash. It isn’t hard to guess that Danny never makes it to the fancy shindig and instead partakes in some psychedelics.
Meanwhile, Sheila proves her political worth by charming money from the previously uncharmable. Ernie (Ian Gomez) is so impressed, he tells her that he will match whatever she raises that night. On the outside, Shelia is an unflappable force and her inner rage is now directed solely at Danny. She is still capable of some cruel comments toward Greta — who is concerned Ernie is cheating on her — but at the one-on-one aerobics class earlier in the episode, Sheila’s voiceover shows empathy that isn’t overtly laced in cruel barbs. “Shame, rinse, repeat,” her inner monologue comments when Greta explains that she baked a batch of cookies that morning and ate every single one of them. Sheila might look like a superhero who strips off her regular mom clothes to reveal her leotard, but the shame spiral is one she knows well.
After successfully raising $2000 and a subsequent argument with Danny — when she arrives home a party is in full swing — she thinks that “Today will be different. Today will be better” when she wakes up the following morning. This mantra is not enough as Danny and Jerry are far too hungover to contemplate her suggestions. “Maybe she’s on the rag,” Jerry mutters after Shelia has stormed out after putting them in charge of Maya. She heads straight to the drive-thru followed by the motel room, but when she catches a glimpse of herself in the TV set reflection, she screams out her frustration.
Instead of consuming and purging fast food, she breaks the cycle and goes to the aerobics studio. She isn’t using a class to regain control, instead, the camera she stole from Ernie is the source of her salvation. Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci) thinks she is here with snacks to discuss the campaign video — earlier he says he wants to use the 1966 surf documentary The Endless Summer and Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will as inspiration — but Sheila has another plan: “Fuck the campaign video. I’m ready to make a fortune.”
Aerobics has been her source of salvation so far, which has replaced some of the space taken up by cruel comments. While she cooks or tries to drown out Jerry and Danny, the hypnotic exercise moves and uplifting soundtrack play on a loop in her mind. She has switched one compulsion for another and the flashforward to 1986 has already revealed TV success. Is the video camera going to help her become an aerobics home video sensation? The friction at home is fueling her desire for success, but her light flirtation with John Breem (Paul Sparks) at the beach (before he freaked out about the wave touching his shoes) suggests an affair might be on the cards. Sparks is serving up slightly unsettled energy as the wannabe Reagan, but it is noticeable that Sheila’s eyes lingered on his toned behind. He might represent everything she loathes about politics, but he has already given her more attention than her husband has. There is already a lot going on with Shelia and this hint at a potential tryst is unnecessary.
Going from three episodes released at once to a solitary episode is beneficial to the series as it feels like there is more room for the material (and Shelia) to breathe. This is not a narrative concerned with making the audience feel better or keeping us at a safe distance from Sheila's rage, which can make it feel relentless. A balance between the caustic inner monologue and external forces is found this week and thankfully, “Let’s Get This Party Started” finds some rhythm beyond its excellent soundtrack.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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