Watch it for...
A disturbing and dramatic ‘80s flashback featuring shiny fashion and big hair, a nod to Richard Simmons, and an honest look at the forces that feed an eating disorder.
Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne) is a frustrated housewife with an eating disorder who relies on ballet to dull the edges of her SoCal, very 80s, Feminine Mystique-driven life. When ballet class is canceled, she finds salvation in the newborn aerobics craze, but success is not easy. As her eating disorder rituals eat away funds meant to keep her husband’s run for local office afloat, and begin to have more severe impacts on her health, she makes some questionable choices to protect her secret. In Physical, you’ll find plenty of ‘80s Easter eggs, a la Stranger Things, but the “upside-down” here is Sheila’s psyche. Imagine Family Ties rebooted as a cerebral dramedy, or a Mad Men-style look at a historical moment bookended by the defeat of the ERA and the premiere of the Enjoli perfume commercial. It’s a raw look at the frustration and changing social conventions of an era where women were expected to do it all without missing a step.
One note: eating disorders are a big part of this story, so take care while watching.
For me, Physical struck a familiar and achy sort of chord. In a way, Sheila is a mash-up of my mother and me. Like Sheila, my mother is a liberal Baby-boomer who faced many of the same gender-based struggles the show explores. And also like Sheila, I was an aerobics-obsessed teen with an eating disorder. I can’t think of another TV series that captures my own Reagan-era experience with as much nuance, accuracy, and care as Physical does. It’s uncomfortable but in an engaging, immersive, and at times funny, can’t-look-away sort of way. It can be a tough watch but I highly recommend this show, especially if you or someone you love lived through the era!