‘Living with Yourself’ Review: Netflix Doubles Down on Paul Rudd in Dark Clone Comedy

     October 18, 2019

As far as crowd-pleasing pitches go, two Paul Rudds for the price of one is a pretty good sell. The beloved comedic actor turned MCU superstar is a perennial fav and doubling down on his charms is a good deal for everyone — except, as it turns out in Living with Yourself, himself. Rudd headlines the new Netflix comedy as Miles Elliott, a burnt-out and embittered suburban everyman who visits a mysterious cutting edge spa with the promise of coming out a better version of himself and winds up with an impossibly perfect clone that he can’t stand instead.

Created by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show) and directed by Little Miss Sunshine duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Living with Yourself launches a clever high-concept idea for a series, elevated by the double helping of Rudd’s reliable on-screen charisma, and with an eight-episode, half-hour runtime, the series looks to tap into the same hyper binge-able genre-hybrid format that worked so well for Santa Clarita Diet,  Russian Doll, and Dead Like Me. However, while that rapid-fire delivery of twists and cliffhangers ensures Living with Yourself is a quick, easy watch, the series never quite feels at home in the format — delivering a narrative that would have benefited from either the focus of a feature-length runtime or a more traditional episodic format to dig deeper into the darkness its so keen to explore.

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Image via Netflix

And boy, Living with Yourself does get dark. It all kicks off with a great cold open that establishes a bleak comedic tone from the get-go, but it’s not until the second half that the series fully unveils the undercurrent of pitch-black comedy beneath Rudd’s trademark charm. By comparison, the first half is breezy and bustling, introducing the key players in Miles’ life — his wife Kate (Aisling Bea, the surprise highlight of the series), disappointed in their marriage and, particularly, her husband’s failure to follow through on fertility appointments in their mission to conceive; his work rival Dan (You’re the Worst scene-stealer Desmin Borges), who sends Miles to the mystery spa, fully unaware of their kill-and-clone policy; and his sister (Alia Shawkat), who… well, she doesn’t really do much, but Shawkat is always a welcome addition.

Living with Yourself drops you into the thick of its double-Rudd predicament, jumping backward and forward through time to offer the perspective of both Old Miles and New Miles, and eventually, Kate in one of the series’ standout episodes. At first both versions of Miles try to work together to accomplish their dream life. New Miles is better at everything, heck he even has better hair, and Old Miles relishes the opportunity to skip work while New Miles raises their status with a killer new campaign. But he also lets New Miles take on the heavy lifting in his marriage, and before long, Living with Yourself flirts with a fascinating love triangle between Kate and two versions of her husband — the one she fell in love with before falling into a rut, and the idealized version of him who offers everything she’s been missing in her marriage. Or does he?

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Image via Netflix

Living with Yourself takes a look at self-help and the relentless pursuit of perfection and comes out the other side in favor of the faults and flaws that make us all uniquely damaged pieces of work. Would we really be better if we scrubbed away those all those unflattering traits, or would our darkest truths and instincts simply bubble up in new, possibly worse way? Would we even like that new and improved self? Living with Yourself taps into those questions, but never full investigates them, making the whole exercise ring hollow in the end, despite the joys

Even though its existential questions ever lead to any significant revelation, Living with Yourself absolutely thrives when it leans into plot-heavy thrills and the decadent flourishes perverse humor. Rudd is absolutely acting up a storm in this one — not just for the obvious demands of the two-role gimmick, not to understate the technical challenges of pulling that off — he’s equally able to break your heart and make you laugh as both New Miles and Old Miles, even as both dovetail into borderline despicable acts of literal self-destruction. And what a match he finds in Bea; the Irish actress, best known to American audiences for Hulu’s This Way Up, looks square in the face of two Rudd performances and threatens to walk away with the whole show.

Living with Yourself starts with an interesting “what-if” and keeps answering that question with enough verve to keep you cracking through the episodes at a rapid clip. It’s got a twisted sense of humor and two compelling leads in Rudd and Bea, who mine the often thin material for more than its worth. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that the series could have been more, gone deeper, hit harder. All the same, it’s still the only Netflix show with two Paul Rudds, which makes it well worth the binge, even if — like Old Miles — it rarely seems interested in living up to its potential.

Rating: ★★★

Living with Yourself is now streaming on Netflix

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