In the new Netflix series Living With Yourself, debuting Friday, a trip to a top-secret spa results in the generation of two Paul Rudds — which, on the surface, doesn’t sound like a problem. Who could object to double the Rudd?
But Living With Yourself — which stars Rudd as Miles Elliot, a middle-aged marketing executive who seeks out self-improvement therapy and winds up being cloned — goes deeper than its surface might suggest. Given Rudd’s gift for comedy and the show’s premise, this series, which starts streaming October 18, could have easily been a shenanigan-filled sitcom filled with misunderstandings and mistaken identities. But as created by Timothy Greenberg, whose writing and producing credits include The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, The Detour, and Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame, it’s something odder, darker, and more genre-fluid. The best way to describe the tone of Living With Yourself is to say that it possesses the existential concerns of series like Forever or The Good Place, the designed-for-binging narrative style of Dead to Me, and the cockeyed tone of a Charlie Kaufman script. It’s Eternal Sunshine of the Cloned Mind.
The first time we see Miles he is emerging from what appears to be a shallow grave where he’s been buried and cloaked in cellophane. In Twin Peaks–ish parlance: He’s not dead, wrapped in plastic. An immediate flashback to 24 hours earlier explains how he wound up in that state while providing some context about who Miles is: a marketing pro who’s out of ideas; a disengaged husband who has had trouble starting a family with his wife Kate (Aisling Bea of This Way Up); and a guy devoid of enthusiasm and energy. Basically, he’s the word “meh” in human form.
When Dan (You’re the Worst’s Desmin Borges), a co-worker who’s been crushing it at the office, tells Miles that he became a better version of himself after a trip to an elite, referrals-only spa, Miles takes Dan up on the recommendation to try it himself. In short order, Miles is paying $50,000 to have his DNA rebuilt in stronger form, a process that involves him being put under anesthesia by a pair of supposed scientists who seem panicked just as he’s drifting into slumber. When he wakes up, he suddenly finds himself buried alive in a remote wooded area, swathed in the aforementioned cellophane and wearing nothing but a diaper. When he finally gets back to his house, Miles discovers that Miles is already there — Cloned Miles, that is. Due to a glitch in the spa’s process, Original Miles managed to survive the procedure, which does not normally happen. That means there are two Mileses walking around, or, as I referred to them while watching Living With Yourself, Hot Paul Rudd and Slightly Less Hot Paul Rudd.
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into too much detail about what happens beyond that introductory setup, other than to say that the benefits of having a double are quickly outweighed by complications that creep into all aspects of Miles’s life, including, most significantly, his marriage. At first, the prevailing question that hangs over the show is: How is Miles going to deal with this situation? It seems impossible to contend with having a duplicate forever, without someone, at some point, finding out that there are two Miles instead of one. But as the episodes progress, they become more interested in exploring the notion of what it really means to want to be better, and questioning whether a best version of one’s self is even possible.
Living With Yourself is a fast and easy binge, which doesn’t sound like a compliment but is meant as one. With the exception of the finale, which runs for 35 minutes, each of the eight episodes clocks in at under 30 minutes, which keeps the twists coming at a welcome pace. Within that framework, the show feels breezy but also smart, entertaining but thought-provoking at the same time. Given our society’s forever obsession with self-improvement, it’s not so hard to imagine a spa like the one in the show actually existing; for all I know, one exists in some strip mall right now. Greenberg, Dayton, and Faris have fun with that idea, but they take its implications seriously. The result is a dramedy that shifts easily between moments of comedy, seriousness, and suspense. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, which practically demands that you succumb to Netflix’s invitation to start the next episode.
Another thing that makes Living With Yourself so watchable is Rudd, one of the most inherently likable actors on the planet. As soon as he shows up onscreen, you’re on his side, and when there winds up being two of him, you’re on both of his sides. The fact that it’s so easy to distinguish between the two iterations of Miles is a testament to how good Rudd is here. There are some cosmetic differences between the two, the chief one being their hair — Original Miles has his combed forward, while Clone Miles has a ’do that’s been visibly tszujed — but Rudd also carries himself differently depending on which genetic product he’s inhabiting. As Original Miles, he slouches and plods through life, looking like any schlub you might pass on the street (a pretty good-looking zhlub, yes, but still a zhlub). When he’s Clone Miles, he strides straight-backed from every point A to every point B. As the “better” version of himself, he glows in a way that suggests he could conceivably, well, star in a Marvel movie. At times, the two Miles looked different enough in the same scene that I wondered if Rudd shot them at different times. In a recent interview with Greenberg, soon to be published on Vulture, I was assured it was not.
Rudd is really good at being silly and goofy, but he resists the temptation to steer into that for Living With Yourself, which is much more dry and deadpan. In a way, Rudd is playing the straight man — straight men? — to an absurd situation, and he does it with such natural ease that you don’t even think about all the things he had to mentally juggle to pull off all the moments that require him to play against himself. This is hardly the first series or movie to cast an actor in a dual role, but the seamlessness of the execution is impressive.
There’s a moment in the sixth episode when Original Miles, facing a professional conundrum, asks himself the question: “What would you do if you were you?” Like Living With Yourself as a whole, the line is funny while raising an important philosophical question, one that guides the whole series: How would the best, most enlightened version of yourself, the person you’ve always wanted to be, behave in a tough situation? Living With Yourself, among other things, suggests that maybe you should start searching for the answer by looking within, rather than entering a situation that makes you, and potentially others, see double.