aerobics as a metaphor for female emancipation

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It is a well-identified phenomenon in the serial landscape, if not scientifically demonstrated: there is sometimes a “miracle” of seasons 2, a surprising surge after an appetizing first season. This state of grace affects the ten new episodes of Physical which the Apple TV+ platform puts online on June 3, just one year after season 1.

A black comedy set in the purring San Diego of the Reagan years, the series created by Annie Weisman deftly defied expectations by using aerobics as a metaphor for double-edged female emancipation. And the direction of Craig Gillespie, who signed the pilot, gives an original patina to this era often staged on the screen.

The second season, quickly launched thanks to the critical success of the first, benefited from the maintenance of its main actors – in the forefront of which Rose Byrne in one of its best roles – and from the addition of Murray Bartlett, straight exfiltrated from The White Lotus. In the role of a popular sports coach who is also a prisoner of appearances, he offers a perfect counterpoint to the character of Sheila, a former university student turned housewife, a bulimic refugee in sport.

Two forms of slavery

The series picks up when Sheila, who recorded a VHS of exercises stolen from her former friend Bunny, struggles to get her brand off the ground. Strangled by the condescension of her investors and by the boredom of her marriage to Danny, a failed politician, Sheila wanders into the arms of a pastor in crisis of faith. First an outlet for his frustrations, aerobics becomes his only lifeline, the compass of an existence based on lies and secrets. Outside, the SlimFast years are in full swing. A corollary of liberal individualism, personal development is all the rage, and the series has fun comparing two forms of slavery: that suffered by housewives and that which they inflict on their bodies.

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This nasty denunciation of the mental burden (at the time when she still had no name) and of the price to pay to be free is carried by an ultra-tense staging, suspended from Sheila’s tense energy and punctuated by the surges of his inner voice, one of the best ideas of the series.

Bony silhouette and smile to the eyelids, Rose Byrne brilliantly embodies the mad energy of despair, the resistance to adversity while around her are multiplying lead shots and resigned choices. The state of grace of this season 2 is essentially his.

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