Television has become more interesting in recent times, with creators and actors trying out new topics and roles to bring alive on screen.
Stories that hitherto haven't been explore are seen more often and there are more representation as well, although not always the kind we can agree with.
AppleTV's latest original series 'Physical' puts women, particularly those who lived through the 1980s, in the limelight and not in a pretty way. That is in no way a criticism because the draw of the series is the "realness" of it all.
Set in the 1980s San Diego, 'Physical' tells the story of Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne) a "quietly tortured, seemingly dutiful housewife supporting her smart but controversial husband’s bid for state assembly."
But all is not well in Sheila's world. Her marriage to Danny Rubin (Rory Scovel) is dysfunctional, she struggles with motherhood and grapples with self-image issues. Viewers are privy to her dark, sometimes funny, inner thoughts which can be jarring in it's hatefulness and gives you an insight to what incessant intrusive thoughts feel like.
Sheila finds empowerment through aerobics (remember this was the 80s where men and women in leotards were seen moving to upbeat music everywhere) and later becomes a powerful, confident lifestyle guru.
An ode to 1980s America
From the start of the pilot, you get transported to 1980s America - from the costumes and hair and make up to the set, everything screams the 80s and you can't help but get sucked into the era.
Weisman finds 1980s a fascinating transition in time where the world moved from a "we time to me time", as she put it.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s California, she saw the country go through a shift from the 1960s and 1970s progressive idealism to "real conservative embrace of commercialism and self centeredness in the 80s."
She wanted to capture the hinge between the eras.
"It was a kind of fascinating transition in time, but it's a wave that we've seen repeated again and again, in American politics," she said.
Byrne said that she relished the production design as it was authentic instead of just appearing to be retro.
"Every woman back then used to make their own leotards. There wasn’t access to those kinds of materials, those kinds of cuts. It was very much a hands-on thing and the costume designer made it all look very authentic," she said during a media rountable.
Complex characters portraying complex issues
'Physical' is not the kind of show you watch when you want mindless entertainment. It delves into issues that many, especially women, can relate to at some level even if not entirely.
The main character, Sheila, struggles with body image issues, which Weisman herself has experienced.
A lot of what the Sheila portrays is based on her own experience dealing with eating disorders, and feeling divided between the self she showed the world and the one she felt inside.
"It was complicated for me to develop just because it meant I'm digging into some areas that I hadn't explored before publicly.
"And so it was about kind of, you know, revealing things that I kept private for a reason. But I will say that the experience of sharing what I thought was pretty shameful and private has been really liberating because it's brought so many women closer to me, and who see their own experience and their own feelings," Weisman said.
She added that this proves, once again, that this kind of disorders strives in isolation and shining light on it is the antidote for it.
Not that the experience was easy on the creator. Byrne shared that there were times when Weisman would disappear from the set.
"A lot of times, we'll be like, 'Where's Annie?', and she'll be in her car. She didn't want to watch this part. And I'm like 'she wrote it! It's all her fault!'," Byrne shared with a laugh.
Playing the character was no walk in the park for the actress either although she loved the challenge.
"What was difficult for me was Sheila was very ambivalent as a mother.
"As a mother, it was something difficult to talk about, to represent and even discuss. Motherhood is so complicated. It’s not discussed enough; all of the complexity of it.
"I think we explore that more and more as 'Physical' goes on but that, to me personally, was very hard to represent, to bring alive and have compassion for," said the actress who is well know for her versatility.
Byrne wasn't the only one who had to step out of her comfort zone to play a character in the show.
Rory Scovel, who plays her husband Danny, is acting in such a serious role for the first time, a far cry from his stand-up comedy career. He's appeared in other shows, but never playing the kind of character he does in 'Physical'.
"Anytime I've acted in anything, it's always been very comedic. So to do this, that has so much more drama to it than I'm used to, it was it was different.
"It was a lesson. I'm very lucky to have had someone like Rose Byrne taking the lead that I could just kind of, you know, follow her step and sort of see how she approaches these scenes and how she's approaching the tone and her own character to inform me of mine," he said, in a show of humility that his character Danny probably wouldn't be able to relate to.
"As you know, if you've seen some of the episodes, the character is unlikable. So there's something about playing that and trying to maintain some sense of likability as as the story unfolds," he said.
Female empowerment then and now
If you haven't guessed, 'Physical' doesn't just have a female creator and lead as the focus, but also the voices of women that you rarely get to hear.
"I’ve never read a character like Sheila before with her inner voice on display, which I think women really try to hide and try to maintain appearances and how people perceive you.
"It’s often not safe for women to say what they think. It still isn’t. Particularly back then there was no place for Sheila to articulate what she needed and wanted. Often those desires in women are seen as unseemly… don’t ever need too much, look like you need too much or want too much," Byrne said.
She admits that things are different nowadays with women having more equal opportunities but the perception of women was interesting to explore.
Although Byrne feels that women have more equal opportunities nowadays, she also thinks that it's a "three step forward, two steps back" kind of situation where there are some things, such as reproductive rights are still debated and politicised.
While great strides have been made when it comes to women's rights, there's room for improvement yet she opined, and opinion echoed by her co-star Scovel.
"I do think that the needle has moved slightly for the better. But I think, this is now 40 years after the reality of that story. I don't think that it's moved enough.
"I hope there's constant awareness, hopefully, from people watching a show like this, to realize that this is a very realistic struggle for for people, for women, that this is something that women do deal with, and that you hope that men see the show, and maybe it opens their eyes to go well.
"I don't want to be that type of guy. I don't want to be someone who's not supportive. I'd rather be more more aware and be more supportive and be a better person who's who's aware of, you know, the struggles that that women have," he said, adding that he's hopeful that the world is moving in the right direction.
Available on AppleTV now
'Physical', created by Annie Weisman and starring Rose Byrne, Rory Scovel, Dierdre Friel, Della Saba and more premiers on Apple TV on 18 June 2021.
Catch the first three episodes now and the rest every Fridays.