‘Physical’ takes us back to the 80s in California, in the aftermath of the hippie movement. The show follows Sheila, now a mother and dutiful wife, as she struggles with domestic life and a perpetual self-loathing that makes her manically binge on junk food. Repulsed by her now aging, self-absorbed husband and almost anyone else she happens to meet, Sheila finds an unlikely outlet for her frustrations in aerobics.
The glitzy, spandex flashing homage to the 80s finds comedy in the manic energy and self-disgust of the protagonist, together with its cast of equally conflicted characters who all seem to be grappling with entering the new decade. Let’s explore the first 3 episodes of the biting monologue-driven ‘Physical’ and see if we caught all its layers. SPOILERS AHEAD
Physical Episode 1-3 Recap
The show opens with Sheila and her husband Danny in the midst of a conversation, clearly showing them living in the twilight of their free love heyday. Danny persuades Sheila to convince a young university student to stay the night, and she dutifully agrees, despite having been in the midst of a particularly harsh session of self-berating in front of the bathroom mirror. The next day we are privy to Sheila’s guilty pleasure as she locks herself in a hotel room whilst her husband is at work and proceeds to eat multiple large orders of junk food. She then vomits it all out and vows to start eating healthy, join a new exercise class, and never do that again.
Sheila comes home to find that Danny’s been let go from his job as a university professor, but with a little cajoling from her, he gets convinced to run for public office. However, unbeknownst to her husband, Sheila has used up all their savings on junk food and hotels. In a frenzy to recover the money, she stumbles into an aerobics class and manages to blackmail the trainer Bunny for money after she notices her living illegally at the mall.
Physical Episode 1-3 Ending: Why Does Sheila Hate Herself?
Sheila, however, ends up spending the money back on aerobics classes when she finds it an effective way to channel her pent-up frustration. With Danny still collecting signatures for his public office candidacy, Sheila realizes that he will soon need their savings for his campaign. She manages to convince Bunny to let her teach an aerobics class though she then struggles to find any students for it as, it is revealed, she has no female friends (Danny also very pointedly says it at one point). Sheila finally holds her class, and it is a success.
However, the whole time, our spandex-clad protagonist incessantly calls herself a “fat ghost” in her mind. Deeper psychological factors notwithstanding, Sheila’s self-loathing seems to stem from her life not turning out how she pictured it during her idealistic youth. As part of the hippie movement, she and Danny, who was a well-known soapbox speaker in their circle, had dreamed of stopping real estate developers and saving the planet.
Now falling prey to wrinkles, being burdened with a husband she is revolted by and being forced to listen to stories of how well her friends are doing, Sheila finds everything about her life wrong. Her stinging abhorrence for uncontrolled eating serves as a regular reminder of her general contempt for herself and the world around her.
Much like her own eating, she finds herself unable to control the factors that run her life. When she berates Danny in her mind, she often adds that however bad he is, she’s even worse since she depends on him. So deep is her self-loathing that she pushes away anyone who tries to get close to her, including those trying to help. This is also why she (as Danny insensitively points out in front of company) doesn’t have any close friends.
What is Going on Between Danny and Simone?
Danny’s perky university student Simone reappears to help him on his campaign trail. Much to Sheila’s irritation, Simone and Danny seem to be working very closely, and Danny even asks his wife to go out and collect signatures whilst he stays back and “brainstorms” with the young university student. His attraction towards her is obvious, but Sheila continues to skirt the situation instead of confronting it.
Simone brings out the conflict in Sheila’s character. On the one hand, the aging hippy diva is only seen to warm up to those that treat her like the goddess she expects herself to be. Like the chubby Greta, Simone is also in awe of Sheila’s beauty and demeanor of stoic confidence, as she often tells her. Hence, Sheila finds the talkative young student bearable.
On the other hand, she is overwhelmingly jealous of Simone’s youthful physique and hates the fact that her husband seems to be having an affair with her. Both Danny and Sheila may see a younger version of Sheila in the youthful beauty and political exuberance of Simone, which would explain why Danny is all the more attracted to her and why Sheila herself doesn’t know what to do about her.
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