When Physical premiered it’s 10-part episode season one in 2021, it reintroduced the world to the craze of the 1980s aerobics scene. There was dancing (and lots of it), there was drama, there was scandal. But more than just a TV series about lycra-clad aerobics personalities with big 80s hairdos, it sparked a conversation around serious issues that are prevalent in society today, like mental health and toxic masculinity.
Led by Australia’s own Rose Byrne as the anti-hero Sheila Rubin, Physical explores the life of an unfilled woman struggling with an eating disorder and the dissatisfactions of life due to the pressures that society has placed on her – and women – at the time. While a series full of fun, excitement and comedy, its dark side offers a depth of character evolution which was both moving and personal. Personal in the way that it touches on the experiences of the series’ showrunner Annie Weisman, who for years struggled with an eating disorder.
“Drawing on my own personal experience, both with the struggle and with recovery, it really has been a core theme of the show and something that I continue to draw on as we see Sheila Rubin find connection and healing with her problems,” says Weisman.
“In season one, we really got to know Sheila and her internal struggles that are at odds with the external image she’s projecting into the world. In season two, some of her internal struggles are starting to erupt to the surface, and that’s the first step towards her recovery.”
“In Season two, we really track her rise and success as well as her continuing personal struggles until she hits rock bottom and finds that she needs to get to a place of recovery.”
Now, on June 3, season two of Physical will air via AppleTV+, promising to bring more high-flying dance sequences, laughter and tears as Sheila returns to the fold, looking to take on the world after successfully launching her first Aerobics fitness video.
Of course, it isn’t smooth sailing for Sheila, who finds that she’s to encounter new and bigger obstacles on her path to becoming an aerobic queen. She is also torn between her loyalty to her unfaithful husband Danny (Rory Scovel) and the values (or lack thereof) that he represents.
“I feel that we set up the show at the beginning of season two with Sheila reaching some sort of status becoming a successful aerobics personality. She’s not there yet but I love all the seeds she is planting and the journey of that,” explains Byrne.
“It’s a slog for her and she realises that and the limitations of what she is and isn’t able to do. But she pivots during the season and realises how to achieve what she wants faster.”
The toxic relationship that plays out between Sheila and her husband Danny is also a drawcard for viewers of the series. Not in the fact that it is nice viewing by any means, but Scovel’s portrayal of Danny Rubin is so unlikeable that you almost love to hate him, and that passion draws you in each week.
“I think Danny [Rubin] realises for the first time that he’s more in the back seat and Sheila is now the driver; she’s the bread winner, she’s the one that is successful, she’s the one that earned admiration from so many of her fans and followers. I think it puts him into a position of realising who he is to the family and who he is to himself and I like that this season didn’t have him so aggressively seeking out activism,” says Scovel.
“I think in season two, it leans less away from maybe that comedic rhythm I’m so used to as a stand up comedian and leans more into this honest approach and dramatic space that this character is in of trying to figure out how to be a better dad and a better husband.”
With the coming of season two comes new character inclusions, of course. On the road to building a fully-fledged fitness empire, Sheila finds that she’s no longer the only aerobics personality in town, with the arrival of a fierce new competitor in Vinnie Green, played by the talented Murray Bartlett (White Lotus).
Bartlett adds another layer to this already incredibly dynamic series that is pure class. His high-octane energy is addictive – a certain dance sequence in season two will have you in tears – while his charisma and genuine comedic prowess is unique and refreshing to witness.
“I think this show is just brilliantly written. It’s a great cast and one of the things I love about this character, which is true of all the characters, is that they’re fun, you want to spend time with them but they are complex and they have a darker side you get to witness,” says Bartlett.
“You see how they present to the world but you’re let in to their inner voice and the demons they are grappling with through that voice and I find that very relatable. I think from a human experience, we’re all experiencing some form of that.”
Perhaps the key to the show’s success has been just that: the relatable topics and themes of which its characters explore, in particular the continual pressure exerted on women – and the particular pressure that women exert on themselves – mental health and body image, and the inner demons that we face – and must grapple head on – to find some sort of solace. Physical puts all of these feelings and issues centre stage for the world to discuss.
“One of our goals for this season was to really authentically demonstrate how eating disorders, for example, are often misunderstood as really being being about the eating disorder behaviour itself rather than the core issues,” says Weisman.
“We’re being true to that time period in which, there was so much stigma around therapy and so much stigma around even naming mental illness in women in particular. We show how radical and out of the mainstream those sources of help were.”
Physical Season Two will premiere globally on Friday, June 3 exclusively on Apple TV+.