Apple TV Plus is one of the best streaming services, and so we’ve always got our eyes on the calendar for its next releases. Sure, it’s only $4.99 per month (or even less if you’re on an Apple One bundle like I am), but we know every dollar matters these days. And that’s why I’m here to talk about one of its returning shows: Physical, which has its second season debuting on June 3 (so you don’t even really need to binge).
Me, personally, I love to watch shows one week at a time — so don’t get me wrong when I recommend you watch the first season of Physical in a shorter amount of time. Bingeing a show isn’t just beloved by some, but it’s also the best way to get ready for a returning program.
This way you’ll be watching with everyone when the show is airing on its weekly release schedule (something that most services are reverting to, eschewing the Netflix binge-drop model).
But since every show isn’t for everyone, it’s time to look into if Physical is right for you, or if you should go back to a Severance rewatch. Because for reasons that will become all too clear, Physical isn’t for everyone.
Why Physical is worth watching
Our societal obsession with our bodies and the virulent negative body images that make many feel bad about themselves isn’t something that just sprouted up with Instagram. Physical brings all of our worst inner monologues to the forefront with the Sheila (played by Rose Byrne), a character who is antagonistic on the inside and could have faltered if miscast. Fortunately, that’s not the case here, as Byrne excels at delivering the frustrated voice-over monologues.
While the show gives you a flash of Sheila working as a jazzercise queen on camera in the mid 1980’s, it rewinds to her beginnings as a self-loathing housewife. And if this sounds dark, know that Physical’s tone is matched by its visuals. Check out the trailer for yourself.
As we get to know Sheila, we know that she’s judging everyone for their own physical shapes and sizes. It’s so much her thing that her voice-over narration could come with a content warning for body image. Of course, Sheila’s not perfect. Even though she’s fit, she’s secretly shoveling burgers and trying to manage her own impulses.
Misery is the main flavor of Physical, though, as even Sheila’s husband Danny (Rory Scovel) is fed up with his job as an academic. Completing their house of frustration is daughter Maya (Grace Kelly Quigley), who is too young to be truly interesting but old enough to have the dexterity to bang pans like she’s training to be a drummer.
And all of that frustration leads to where you might expect: Sheila becoming a central figure in the culture and business of physical fitness. Who better to sell an idealized image of one’s self that someone who can’t stop judging herself?
Of course, this isn’t exactly a prime position for Sheila — as someone who is constantly thinking about how unsightly everyone is. Her mental flashbacks of her husband’s messy eating alone shows that she can’t help but dislike. And that’s tame compared to how she judges one of the women at her daughter’s preschool.
Still trying to figure out if you can hit play, and get Physical? Let’s check out what the critics have to say.
What critics think of Physical
Physical, as you might imagine, is quite divisive, earning a 65% Rotten Tomatoes score (with a 78% audience score). So, let’s see what they have to say.
Clara Wardlow of RogerEbert.com wrote “Physical is consistently interesting, visually dynamic, and narratively bold, even if sometimes confused. Despite its razor-sharp edges, it might also do the trick for those out there feeling a GLOW-shaped void in their lives.”
John Doyle, for The Globe and Mail declared “If you hate the 1980s, the corrosive AppleTV+ show Physical is for you,” and noted that “Byrne is truly outstanding in what is often a one-woman show,” and that “Physical isn’t likeable, it’s just so near-nihilistic that its existence is praiseworthy in itself.”
On the “don’t watch” side of the debate, you’ve got Lucy Mangan at The Guardian, who (like Sheila) pulled no punches, writing that Physical “has no comedy and the second is that it has precious little drama.” Mangan also gets tired of Sheila’s internal monologuing, writing “Used sparingly, it could have retained some of its kick. Instead, it drains the energy from every scene in which it is heard – which is, alas, most of them.”
Richard Roeper, for the Chicago Sun-Times, didn’t feel it either, and wrote “We get the feeling it’s exhausting to be Sheila. And, unfortunately, it’s exhausting to spend so much time with her.”
Outlook: Should you watch Physical tonight?
Physical may be unlike anything you’ve seen in a while, as it’s so comfortable being uncomfortable — and mean that some folks will walk away after a few scenes. This is why it’s so surprising that Physical landed on Apple TV Plus, which arrived in a sea of notions that it would deliver shows that were more uplifting.
Thankfully, Apple TV Plus moved on from that idea being its defining characteristic. Just look at the tremendously awkward thriller Severance, its big hit of 2022. And while Physical is no Severance, it’s certainly brave enough to merit a chance. We won’t judge you if you can’t take Sheila’s monologue, though. We don’t know how she lives with it either.