After a run of strong episodes, 'Physical' stumbles at the final hurdle but leaves us wanting more.
- 💃 Everything about Greta in this episode is a delight.
- 💃 The exhilarating opening sequence.
- 💃 There is still plenty of story left to tell.
- 💃 Rose Byrne has been captivating throughout.
- 💃 John Breem has been an issue throughout and that continues.
- 💃 Bunny getting left behind.
This post contains spoilers for Physical "Let's Get Together.”
Read our latest review here.
Throughout Danny’s (Rory Scovel) campaign, Sheila (Rose Byrne) has steadily been building her aerobics brand. The first episode opened with a flash-forward to 1986 that portrays Sheila as a successful aerobics figure and this reveal drains some of the tension out of the present-day scenarios while also placing a big question mark over how she gets there. The Season 1 finale also ends with this same setting five years in the future, but I am no longer certain that these events are set in stone or if this lifestyle guru gig is a fantasy masquerading as reality. Perhaps this sequence reflects everything she desires and is is her version of the American Dream, rather than what is to come. Similar to the season as a whole there are moments in “Let’s Get Together” that are exhilarating, maddening, and ultimately make me want to watch more.
The lead-up to the finale has been the best stretch of episodes to date, which includes time spent in Los Angeles and last week’s joyous squad coming together moment. Sheila is not an easy person to be friends with and she finally embraced the people around her in a bid to take back what was rightfully theirs. Keeping her exercise vision secret from Danny meant she could cultivate this activity as something that was truly hers before he had a chance to dump on it. Combining the fervent reaction to the at-home workout with the last push in Danny’s bid for local office is a no-brainer and the opening mall scene dials into the early ‘80s phenomenon with an exuberant performance set to Bonnie Tyler’s anthemic “Holding Out for a Hero.” While Bunny’s (Della Saba) name is above the studio door, it is Sheila’s commanding voice that instantly pulls focus. Not only is she energizing these women but she is also speaking to their inner demons, targeting the self-saboteur ready to points out flaws or tells you to give up.
For the first half of this episode, Sheila’s inner monologue doesn’t utter a peep and it is only when matters begin to spiral that this familiar negative voice pushes its way back into her thoughts. Everything is going well in the opening scenes and Sheila is living her best life as a local star. Wearing a jacket thrown over her leotard, she laps up the attention raining down on her after a successful workout. Not only was the attendance high, but she caught the attention of a man who wants to turn her into a national brand. The issue is that he only wants to talk to Sheila and Bunny is left out of the equation. This also happens in the Times write-up of the event and her partner (and studio that birthed these moves) don’t warrant a mention, which is an immediate red flag for Bunny.
It is hardly surprising Bunny has trust issues with Sheila considering how entered their lives with a blackmail plot. It took time for the aerobics instructor to warm up to Sheila after this dubious introduction, but the aerobics video enterprise turned matters around. After crediting Bunny (and aerobics) with saving her life, Sheila closes the door on Bunny once again. Sure, it doesn’t help that Bunny shows up at her house just as the election results are called, but Sheila’s narration kicking in during this scene is no mistake. The self-loathing is a highlight reel of accusations that included being a “lying sack of shit,” and her guilt and shame manifest via the narration.
Bunny is not only paranoid about what her partner is going to do with their business, but she is also freaking out about Tyler’s (Lou Taylor Pucci) emergency surgery putting them in a financial hole — as well as what could happen to her boyfriend. While looking around an apartment, Tyler’s “Surfer’s Ear” has become infected and causes a seizure. The doctor explains he is lucky it didn’t reach his brain, but Bunny is struggling to see the positive when considering how unstable their finances are. She needs to know what Sheila plans on doing because her future depends on it, and all she gets is a door in the face. Juxtaposed against last week’s camaraderie high point it is brutal, and it is hard to see what role Bunny will have when Sheila is the one being courted as the star.
Everything Sheila is planning toward is contingent on Danny winning the election and in her dream scenario, he will be away working in Sacramento while she sets her sights on aerobics domination. Greta (Deidre Friel) is concerned this plan doesn’t leave room for a marriage (let alone Maya), but Sheila waves off this point. Having recently gone through a very long rough patch with Ernie (Ian Gomez), Greta is an expert in this field but Danny is not as understanding about what is going on beneath the surface. For starters, the look on his face when Sheila is in her element doing aerobics is a mix of wonder, worry, and straight-up confusion. He doesn’t recognize this empowered version of his wife or her commanding presence. Greta is nothing but thrilled for her friend and while she doesn’t take the class per se, she is confident enough to bop along while manning the campaign table. Having this pair share the same space only highlights how those closest to Sheila view this through a different lens.
Danny’s infidelity doesn’t come out but he does confront his wife about the observations Simone (Ashley Liao) made about Sheila’s eating habits. Emotions are heightened because of the election but it doesn’t excuse Danny shoving a cream puff in his wife’s mouth after she refuses to have one. He immediately knows he has crossed a line into abusive territory but he can’t take it back and it is hardly surprising when she ups and leaves after the election results are called against them. First, she takes the plate of cream puffs to the bathroom where she plans to consume and purge them, but Greta and Ernie are relieving (sexual) tension in the bathroom, and instead, she bolts for the front door. She ends up at the mall, and it is unclear what she planned on doing (maybe a workout) before spotting John Breem (Paul Sparks) using the stationary escalators as a personal gym.
Earlier in the episode, Breem's wife has told him that she is pregnant, and he pretty much doesn’t respond to this news beyond telling her he will be home late. Seriously, this dude is like an alien trapped in a human body and I know he is meant to represent the repressed American but it is hard to feel anything toward him. Sparks is a great actor, but this character is too cartoony to empathize with. He is awful to his wife and his interest in Sheila is purely sexual (he is also horny for her business model). The final scene doesn’t hit full-on hookup territory (as I expected it would) and instead, Sheila and John pleasure themselves while looking at each other. Stevie Nick’s “Edge of Seventeen” accompanies this scene, which also cuts to Danny and Jerry snorting a lot of coke while brainstorming their next political move.
It is an intense conclusion that takes a turn toward the heightened when Sheila’s climax is accompanied by the vision of her in 1986 as a workout queen. “Shaping with Sheila” is the name of her VHS (the artwork is her O-face), and she is joined in this workout by multiple versions of herself. John Breem might be stood nearby, but to me, this reads as Sheila getting off on her own power and Breem is the conduit to the capitalist dream. Not knowing whether Sheila is going to be a star is a more effective story choice, however, this finale is perhaps too ambiguous.
Overall, Physical has been one of the most fascinating shows I have watched recently. While I haven’t always loved the choices creator Annie Weisman has made, even the missteps are thought-provoking. This raw portrayal of an eating disorder and a character who is rough around the edges makes it a tough but rewarding watch. It is tackling issues that came into fruition during the aerobics craze but the parallels to influencer and social media activity are clear to see. Rose Byrne’s performance is striking throughout, as is the dynamic with Deidre Friel as Greta. The sweet Della Saba/Lou Pucci Taylor coupling has taken unexpected turns, and there is still much to dig into regarding Bunny’s family.
Tenison with figures who represent corporate interests in Reagan’s America is worth exploring in a series depicting this shift, even if the Breem storyline has often felt like it belongs in another show. While there have been issues, certain aspects have barely scratched the surface and there is something intoxicating about its portrayal of aerobics as empowerment and how the wellness industry exploits our insecurities. Aerobics saved Sheila, but now we need to find out just how far “Shaping with Sheila” can go.
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