“Living With Yourself” is the kind of show that sends the spoiler discourse into overdrive. Starring Paul Rudd twice over, I can’t even tell you why there are two characters played by the affable everyman turned “Ant-Man” without blowing the big, initial surprise of Netflix’s new original series. The premise itself is a spoiler, and when that happens, lines are drawn: You’re either irate that some writer has spoiled the show’s central twist before you could watch it, or you’re confused and disinterested by the vague plot descriptions in an empty, superlative-laced review. (Or, better yet, you’re a spoilers extremist, who claims nothing worth watching can be ruined by spoilers, anyway — I genuinely love these folks.)
So I’m going to spoil it. Consider this your warning (in addition to the formal, italicized warning below), but if you need a yay or nay on “Living With Yourself” before we get into specifics, here’s my brief, assured yay vote: Paul Rudd gets to embody every iteration of Paul Rudd, from the whiny baby-man we met in “Wet Hot American Summer” to the playful charmer seen in the “Between Two Ferns” movie (and “Ant-Man”). He’s most like his character in “This Is 40,” but creator Timothy Greenberg’s new half-hour mid-life crisis comedy isn’t bogged down by over-length or muddled messaging — the relatively simple story flies by, mostly for the better on both counts.
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Now then, the twist:
[Editor’s Note: The following portion of the review contains spoilers for “Living With Yourself” Season 1.]
Paul Rudd gets cloned! OK, sorry, not Paul Rudd — Miles, a married forty-something marketing executive who’s stuck in an ugly, self-hating rut, goes to a spa in the hopes of rejuvenating himself only to discover he’s been cloned! The people who run the spa tell their customers that they’re getting a thorough DNA “scrubbing”; a process that erases bad DNA and leaves only the best genetic information in each subject. That means instead of feeling angry, tired, and anxious, the new, post-scrub Miles would be joyous, energetic, and driven. That’s what happened to his co-worker, Dan (Desmin Borges), who referred him to the spa. One day, Dan was a slacker. The next, he was lighting up the office with VR pitches and wooing clients with his good vibes.
But what Dan doesn’t know is he’s not actually Dan — he’s Dan’s clone. What the spa scientists (yes, I know how weird that sounds, but here we are) don’t tell their customers is that the only way to scrub their DNA is to kill them and then use their DNA to create a happier, “better” clone. The clone has the original person’s memories, so they’re none the wiser. They wake up in the spa, feel great, and go on with their lives — New Miles doesn’t know who he really is, or that the spa scientists (that’s what they are!) murdered Original Miles and buried him in the woods.
That’s the premise and the twist. And it is a twist. I didn’t know what “Living With Yourself” was about when I started watching, and going in blind feels like what the creators expect of their audience. There’s a lot of confusion over what constitutes an unexpected turn of events and what are the events of the series itself, but the first shot of “Living With Yourself” shows Miles crawling out of the ground, prying open a plastic bag, and fleeing through the woods in nothing but a diaper. By the end of the first episode, you understand how he got there, but Greenberg (and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) treat the cloning like a big reveal, not a matter-of-fact, “I know the audience already knows this so let’s get on with the story”-type plot.
Miles goes to sleep at the spa (which is a suspicious place, to be sure). He wakes up buried underground and, after he makes his way home, Miles hears another man in his house. So Miles attacks him in the dark, only to suddenly realize he’s looking right back at himself. It’s as shocking for the audience as it is Miles. Even if you knew this was the show with two Paul Rudds, how double the Rudd happened is still kept secret.
But enough about the twist: It’s good, it’s smart — in a Charlie Kaufman-lite, kind of way — but despite the previous 700 words on Episode 1, what matters overall are the unspoilable elements that make up the next seven half-hour entries. Aside from its morbid opening, “Living With Yourself” doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Greenberg is well-aware that Miles’ problems aren’t life-or-death problems (even when both Mileses think about killing the other Miles); they’re just relatable problems.
The four-hour first season flies by, even when its flashback structure creates a few redundancies. Once New Miles is out in the world, Greenberg makes sure to show his perspective instead of just Old Miles. The second episode is dedicated to what New Miles thought was his life, only to learn at the end that it’s not, and his memories are fraudulent. Soon, the two men form an odd tandem. Old Miles gets to take a break while New Miles cherishes every element of being alive. (He was just born yesterday, after all.)
Their dynamic — shifting between nostalgic friendship to a judge-y tag-team to jealous enemies — is a clever way to explore what goes into a mid-life crisis. Miles wonders what his life could’ve been like if he wasn’t tied to this house, this job, and this life. New Miles gives him an opportunity to live out a version of that fantasy. But Greenberg is careful not to overindulge Miles’ self-pity, keeping his futuristic premise tied to reality after the early jump. Just when Miles starts taking things too far, New Miles is there to remind him, “Hey, your life is pretty great, you middle-class white dude who’s married to a smart, hilarious, and beautiful woman.”
Even better, Miles is never interested in other women. He loves Kate (Aisling Bea), and “Living With Yourself” dedicates time to their relationship as well as Kate’s POV. She, too, gets her own episode. She has identity and agency outside of Miles, rather than just nagging him to be a better man and serving as a lady-in-wait until he figures his own shit out. She takes accountability for herself, too, and Bea is a nuanced delight throughout.
Rudd shoulders double-duty with ease. While the two parts aren’t the most challenging of his career, there’s something to be said about the constant movie star appeal of Rudd; even when he tamps down his hair, puts on a sad face, and bitches his way through the pitiable side of Miles, he doesn’t fully lose his tether to reality. His sadness isn’t unwarranted in that he carries it with the weight of time, and Rudd contrasts Old Miles with New by being light and breezy as his younger, life-loving self. Even New Miles’ hair stands up tall, as though nothing can hold it (or him) down.
“Living With Yourself” is as much about earning your happiness as it is choosing to be happy, and watching Rudd guide us through the well-worn mid-life crisis arc adds just as much spring to the story as Greenberg’s original premise. Without either, the show could’ve fallen apart. As it stands, there’s a lot to like no matter what you know going in.
“Living With Yourself” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.
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