Living With Yourself
When taking notes for this promising first episode of Living With Yourself, I wrote down every buzzword and inspirational phrase I could find on the wallpaper of the conference room where Miles Elliot fails to give his presentation. It’s an appalling list of 21st-century corporate-speak: “Inspire Others, Out-spire Yourself”; “Rebels Love Monday”; “Synergy Makes You and Me”; “Excuses? You Have No Uses.” But the one line that stands out is this one: “Branding is not what we do — it’s who we are.”
Perhaps we’ll learn more specific information about Miles’s business, but branding does appear to be what they do, based on those ridiculous virtual-reality goggles that Miles’s co-worker, Don, passes around the table. (“Hilston wants us to refresh their brand image. How about we refresh their reality?”) But to say branding is “who we are” is such a soul-withering proposition, one of those Office Space moments, liking having “a case of the Mondays.” For someone like Miles, a middle-aged husk of a human being, branding may not define him, but being in that environment certainly has. He doesn’t have a brand, but he doesn’t have a firm identity, either. The tiny part of him that hasn’t gone numb is yearning for a fresh start. Just don’t call it a rebrand.
Created by Timothy Greenberg, a longtime producer on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Living With Yourself makes science-fiction comedy out of the common predicament of a midlife crisis. And it starts with a rebirth: Miles emerging from the womb once more, in the verdancy of nature. Only in this case, the womb is a plastic wrapping and nature is the forest outside the state park, where bodies are buried without the additional hassle of entrance fees. And this isn’t even the new Miles, but sad old Miles, confused and frightened and dressed only in an adult diaper. There’s the suggestion of newfound confidence — he tests the new him by flagging down a car in the middle of the road — but it’s really the placebo effect in action. He’s still the man he used to be, but only because he wasn’t disposed of properly — which, by the way, is not regrettable enough a fuck-up to get him a full refund. He can get 10 percent back, 20 percent if he refers a new customer. And since there are now two Miles, there’s twice as good a chance of a referral happening.
Living With Yourself has a lot of business to get through in half an hour, but it’s an efficient and funny taste of the show to come, recalling the debuts of similar metaphysical shows like The Good Place and the late, lamented Forever. But unlike those shows, this one does not take place in the afterlife, but among mortals who are reminded of the empty banality of their existence at every waking moment. Miles was the walking dead before he become the nearly dead, barely pushing his way through a meaningless job and constantly rescheduling an appointment at the fertility clinic, for fear that his indifferent sperm will be put under the microscope. It turns out that the only new life he wants to bring into the world is his own, and the eccentric Korean scientists at a strip-mall spa are the answer for him.
The dynamic between the proprietors of Top Happy Spa — a spa that absolutely looks and sounds like a “massage with release” parlor but offers a far more illegal enterprise — get some of the biggest laughs in “The Best You Can Be.” Played by James Seol and Rob Yang, they present a clandestine storefront that fits right in with other dead-end businesses like Backstreet Bar N’ Grill and Nine Dragons martial arts, complete with cheap vertical blinds and a cat on the windowsill. Once inside, the operation is both suggestive of a high-end parlor, complete with piped-in Enya music, and the vibe of a cutting-edge laboratory. Seol does all the talking while Yang continues to work the low-level hostility he mastered as the head of the digital mag Vaulter on Succession. Their dysfunction while Miles is getting gassed recalls The Simpsons episode where Dr. Nick Riviera gives Homer a triple bypass. (“These gloves came free with my toilet brush!”) It’s possible these two also attended Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.
But the episode is really about building up to the moment when the old, discarded Miles meets the shiny new Miles — let’s call him Miles 2.0 — and the two try to figure out what’s happening and which one of them is entitled to the unsatisfying life that old Miles has created for himself. There are no doubt lots of existential questions to come: It’s quite likely, for example, that Miles will envy the life that Miles 2.0 has taken from him and come to appreciate the virtues of a good wife, a nice house, and all the other amenities he’s taken for granted. But for now, Miles and Miles 2.0 have to ask questions before they can turn on each other — and it’s not even clear yet whether they’re capable of turning on each other, because they are the same person with the same memories. (Has the team at Top Happy Spa really rebuilt Miles’s DNA like a gut-rehab of an old building? Or does he just think it’s a better him?) Their conversation on the car ride over to the spa is an internal monologue brought delightfully to life, as neither can quite remember the name of a girl that embarrassed them in grade school and then have a moment of mutual satisfaction when they finally summon it from the back of their minds.
A show called Living With Yourself featuring a dual performance by Paul Rudd can’t have one Miles killing the other, but the show points to a Charlie Kaufman–esque opportunity to use a high concept to reveal truths about human nature. (In fact, Kaufman did something like this with two Nicolas Cages in Adaptation.) Miles and Miles 2.0 are more or less the same man now, but even if the treatment didn’t rebuild the new Miles into a better Miles, their circumstances are bound to cause their fates to diverge. And who knows what will happen if either of them goes for the 20 percent kickback on a referral?
• The directors of this episode are Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who made their name on music videos like the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight,” but have since gone on to direct features like Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks. They’re in the business of stylish quirk.
•Miles draws the $50,000 from a “special savings” account, implying that he’s one to keep secrets from his wife. We see how that duplicity feeds into his multiplicity.
• Given how many of my pop-culture friends are sports ignoramuses, I should point out that Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, has almost certainly benefitted from cloning. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be a 42-year-old currently playing his 20th season in the NFL and looking like he could play another 20 more. He’s very good at football, he’s married to Gisele Bündchen, and we hate him.
• “Life, amirite?”
• “What kind of farm doesn’t have a clothesline?”
• Extremely confusing to be a joke-teller at Top Happy Spa. Miles wonders if they’re kidding about harvesting the organs of the original person. “Harvesting organs? Yes. Cloning, murder? No.”