The Apple TV+ Physical streaming series is bracing for additions and the big traumas behind them.
When it comes to channeling your trauma through addictions, Rose Byrne’s prickly comedy-drama Physical knows a thing or two.
Last year, during its first season, the Apple TV+ streaming series drew attention for its invigorating and raw depiction of its lead character’s eating disorder, framed in the story of Sheila, a woman a deeply unhappy housewife from the 1980s who decides to take control of her life after taking an aerobics class.
In the just-launched second season, Sheila wants a fitness empire, after she records an aerobics video, and though the pace of her workout is awe-inspiring, the road to commercial success is icy.
The unresolved issues that have plagued her since childhood remain, well, unresolved. It doesn’t matter how hard she trains. And although she no longer swallows four burgers and fries, Sheila has engaged in other risky behaviors.
“Our goal this season was to demonstrate in a really authentic way how eating disorders are in fact often misunderstood,” Physical said designer Annie Weisman. “Disordered eating behavior is not the central problem.
“This year, she is regaining control of her eating habits, but that does not solve the heart of the problem. She really jumps from one addiction to another.
“I think we’re true to the days when there was still so much stigma surrounding therapy and so much stigma even in naming mental illness, in women in particular.
“So it really takes a long time for him to have the strength to come forward and reveal his struggles and then ask for help for them.
“The second season follows her growing success, but also her continued personal struggles until she really hits rock bottom and comes to a place of recovery.
“She starts talking and her inner voice comes out. The more she grows in stature, the harder it becomes for her to keep her true feelings quiet.
Weisman has been candid about drawing on his personal experiences in writing the show, and that empathy extends to Sheila, a character who can be thorny and unlikable as she goes from choice destroyer to another.
“As a storyteller, the challenge of redeeming someone is incredibly difficult, but it’s also compelling,” Weisman said. “I love having to climb this mountain. It’s more difficult and more interesting.
“And it’s really about these great performances that have an onion that you can peel and find that depth. I want to do a character like that, and it’s also a woman, definitely feminine in tone, in the world, in concerns and interests.
Given the show’s closeness to Weisman, Byrne said she really leaned on the writer: “It’s a deeply personal story for her, and so she’s always a touchstone for me in terms of just setting the tone”.
For Byrne, the second season was a chance to get out of Sheila’s story a bit more and explore more of the dazzled world of the 1980s. Physical.
“I like that it’s less about Sheila’s inner battle and more about her outer battle, whether it’s in her marriage or in the business or finding her feet, and also her ‘recovery’, and there’s a recovery and then there is a real recovery.
“And the journey of watching her deal with the difficulty of starting your own business and carrying around her cardboard cutout and a small folding table.”
Australian actor Murray Bartlett has joined the new cast, playing Vinnie Green, a rival fitness guru to Sheila. Bartlett, who stole all the scenes from The White Lotuswas drawn to the project due to the complexity and dark sides of the characters.
And Sheila and Vinnie share a lot of similarities beyond their fondness for Lycra and an upbeat tune.
“He’s fun and charismatic, but you can also explore what’s underneath and there’s a rich inner life that contains a lot of darkness and he carries traumas similar to Sheila’s.
“There’s a certain obsession that drives both Sheila and Vinnie, which gives them an extra charisma in what they do. I think it’s recognizable in the fitness industry or people who are obsessed with that.
“They’re fighting demons and that drives some of their ambition and their connection to this work in a really interesting way.”
The physical second season is streaming now on Apple TV+ with new episodes available Fridays.
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