The stylized harshness director Craig Gillespie brings to the pilot episode bears a very strong resemblance to his work in “I, Tonya,” and later episodes directed by Liza Johnson and Stephanie Laing follow suit. The lighting is often unflattering, bestowing the cast with a clammy, wan, but visually striking pallor. Echoing Sheila’s disgust with basically everything, and especially her particularly toxic relationship with food, anything edible looks decidedly not—the less said about a fondue scene, the better. It’s as effective as it is unappetizing.
A very singular focus on Sheila in the first few episodes begs the question if this whole thing might have been better suited to a movie. Slowly but surely, though, the narrative opens up with mixed results. Bunny gets an intriguing if rushed backstory that is lost in the shuffle even more abruptly than how it’s thrown into the mix. Greta (Dierdre Friel), a fellow stay-at-home mom, makes for a fascinating foil to Sheila, and while the series resolves her season arc far too conveniently, it still feels like there’s plenty of interesting things that could be explored should the series return for another season.
While Apple TV+ has been very emphatic in marketing “Physical” as a comedy, let’s be clear—it’s not. Yes, I know what the press releases have said; we as an industry really need to have a nice long chat about what “comedy” actually means, and when it really ought to be used. The series represents a sufficiently engaging five hours total viewing, but don’t do it for the laughs—they are scant, bitter, and fleeting. This is a drama series, plain and simple, albeit one with a healthy appreciation for the absurd.
“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.
“Physical” premieres on Apple TV+ on June 18. The entire first season was screened for review.