Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
If you’re of a certain age, take a moment and try to remember the video for Olivia Newton John's number one smash "Physical." Too young? Can't recall? That's why there's YouTube. Here you go…
It doesn't get more ‘80s than this. Now let's loosely base a new ten-part series on elements that stand out from this video. Neon outfits, lots of exercise, and a very talented woman from down under leading the way.
Enter Rose Byrne.
She stars in the new dark comedy Physical which premieres on Apple TV+ this Friday. The plot centers around her aerobic transformation in San Diego circa 1981. Rose plays Sheila, a miserable housewife who finds inspiration at the mall. Her husband Danny (Rory Scovel) is an out-of-work teacher who wants to be a politician. Neither of them are particularly endearing.
Unlikable leads are always difficult to pull off, even in the age of anti-hero TV. The audience must care about the fate of the character one way or another. Let's see 'em die or experience some sort of rebirth. Walter White and Don Draper may have been despicable human beings, but we were all wrapped around their respective fingers. Great actors and great writing can make this happen. I don't know how well Rose Byrne can write, but she sure can act.
Many comedic actors have a thirst to do drama, but it’s a two-way street. Dramatic actors also want to get their laughs. Dying is easy, comedy is hard.
To succeed in both arenas is a huge challenge. Hanks and Streep have shown how it's done, but it's a rare feat. Rose Byrne has pulled this off better than most.
She first caught my attention playing Ellen Parsons in the underrated FX drama Damages, going toe-to-toe with co-star Glenn Close. This was a legal battle at its grittiest and Rose got down and dirty. The path to becoming the next great dramatic actress was right there for her to take.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars… she did comedies. Lots of them. Get Him To The Greek. Bridesmaids. Neighbors. She didn't want to be taken seriously all the time and she did something about it. Rose earns her laughs. To put it in her words, "comedy informs your drama and drama informs your comedy." Now imagine that in her native Australian accent.
Her lead role in Physical combines the best of both worlds. Sheila lies, steals and takes advantage of anyone who can help her achieve her goals. As she pushes forward to her inevitable Jane Fonda type of success, you're right there with her. And you’ve got to love those 80's outfits and that hair.
Physical could be improved with better writing and plot tightening. The backstories are a bit of a reach and Danny's campaign is nowhere near as interesting as Sheila's ascent in the aerobic world.
As for Rose Byrne, no improvement is needed. Totally.
THIS WEEK’S SPTINAFOBYMB!
(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)
Celebrity Dating Game (ABC) – Zooey Deschanel and Michael Bolton help celebs find love with mere mortals. Premieres Monday.
The Housewife & The Hustler (HULU) – From the streamer that brought you Framing Britney Spears comes this ABC News expose looking at the actual drama of Tom Girardi and Beverly Hills "real" housewife Erika Jayne. Airs Monday.
Revolution Rent (HBO) – The Broadway musical gets produced in Cuba. Tuesday.
Penguin Town (NETFLIX) – Penguins take to the streets of a South African town looking for mates, food and shelter in this Patton Oswalt-narrated docuseries. Splashes Wednesday.
iCarly (PARAMOUNT+) – Revival alert: Carly, Spencer and Freddie return in their twenties. Premieres Thursday.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
White rap, animated sci-fi adventure, and an eternal battle…
Wednesday June 16th 10pm Season 2 premiere
Dave is a white Jewish guy convinced he’s destined to be the greatest rapper of all time. The first season chronicled Dave's eccentricities, neuroses and his crude climb up the ladder of rap success.
The comedy is based on the real life of Dave Burd aka actor/rapper/model Lil Dicky. In Season 2, having landed a record deal, Dave pushes everything aside as he struggles to create new music. Look for plenty of cameos as Dave's star continues to rise.
Rick & Morty (ADULT SWIM)
Sunday, June 20th Season 5 premiere
This brilliant cartoon from the minds of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland returns for its fifth season. Rick is a mad scientist who brings his grandson Morty along for sci-fi adventures that defy explanation.
A hit from the start, the episodes are short, sweet, and jam packed with so many jokes and references it's tough to keep up. Guest voices this season include Timothy Olyphant, Alison Brie and Christina Ricci. The animated world remains the perfect place for the minds of Dan and Justin. Watch trailer.
Sunday, June 20th Season 2 premiere
So long, CBS. Hello, Paramount+. A Netflix bump proved streaming is the place to be for this mystery that explores the origins of evil in a very unique way.
The team behind The Good Wife and The Good Fight created this epic battle. A skeptical forensic psychologist teams with a priest-in-training to investigate Church mysteries including demonic possession, miracles and hauntings. It’s dark, compelling and makes you think twice about spiritual instances that cannot be easily explained. Plus it features Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from LOST).
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe.
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.