Here’s a cold, hard fact: You’re not that great. In fact, there are many ways in which you can improve yourself. Don’t get mad! This isn’t a direct attack on you, it’s a universal truth for everyone. Well, everyone except for maybe Paul Rudd, Hollywood’s infallible sweetheart and the star of Netflix’s heavily theoretical dark comedy Living With Yourself (eight episodes, 25-35 minutes each).
Rudd takes himself off his pedestal to play Miles Elliott, a very flawed, incredibly plain (well, as plain as Rudd can be), down-in-the-dumps employee at a marketing firm whose life is in a rut: He’s coming up blank at work, shooting blanks when trying to get his wife Kate (This Way Up‘s Aisling Bea) pregnant, and staring at blank pages of his years-in-the-making screenplay. It’s the typical story of a man coming to terms with his failed potential until a coworker who is killin’ it at work lets him in on a little secret. There’s an experimental treatment that will cleanse him of all doubt in himself and turn him into the best person he can be. Keen to try anything to turn his life around, Miles gives it a go and the treatment turns out to be complete and total DNA flushing and replication, or as you can tell in the pictures, cloning.
Except there’s a problem. One major step in the cloning process involves murdering the original subject so the clone can take over, but O.G. Miles survives, leaving the world with twice the Rudd, which isn’t such a bad thing for us. But it is for Miles, who crawls out of a shallow grave and discovers that his life is being infiltrated by an imposter: a new-and-improved him.
Ever since Dolly the Sheep violated the laws of nature in the mid-’90s, clones have been common in film and television, but the closest relative of Living With Yourself is the 1996 Michael Keaton comedy film Multiplicity, in which Keaton is Xeroxed to help ease his hectic life, only to find that the more facsimiles he has of himself, the more trouble they become. Living With Yourself follows in these footsteps; at first, Miles — a depressed, jealous, and self-absorbed man — wants his dupe — a joyous, energetic, empathetic carbon copy — out of the picture, but realizes he can use the clone to improve his own life. Trouble times two ensues, with the two clones unable to keep track of their stories, becoming envious of each other’s lives, and going to preposterous lengths to keep their secret safe. But you knew all that. This is a show about a sad sack who clones himself, what else was going to happen?
Where Living With Yourself had a chance to distinguish itself from its other clones was in the depth of its message. What does it have to say about a man coming face-to-face with his alpha self? Do the clones have a common, core true self where they might meet in the middle? When the secret does come out, what Black Mirror-ish philosophical statement about love will it preach when Kate spends time with Miles’ clone, who is the ideal version of her husband that she longs for? There are moments when Living With Yourself seems ready to dive into those questions, but more often than not, it simply puts on water wings and splashes around in the shallow end.
Living With Yourself is highly entertaining when it has the momentum of really getting into the pluses and minuses of human cloning, a man seeing the world through new eyes (even if they are his), and second chances. But the push-and-pull of Miles and Miles 2 is played more for mild laughs than comedic deep thinking. Put another way, Living With Yourself is to cloning as Santa Clarita Diet is to zombieism; a great starting point, but an imperfect execution. (Just to be clear, Season 1 of Living With Yourself is much better than Season 1 of Santa Clarita Diet.)
That makes Living With Yourself sound worst than it is. Rudd is great, playing the testy Miles as Andy from Wet Hot American Summer and the sunnily disposed Miles’ clone as Josh from Clueless, and this will be many Americans’ first look at Bea, Ireland’s charming do-everything answer to Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The series also incorporates a neat trick that greatly enhances the rising troubles with clones, who share memories and appearances but begin to branch apart through experience: The episodes (save for a few that I won’t spoil here) alternate between the perspectives of Miles and his clone, overlapping scenes we’ve seen before from their particular viewpoint. Coupled with some excellent — though at times meaningless — cliffhangers, Living With Yourself is the kind of show you tear through in an afternoon just to see what happens next.
I was never bored with Living With Yourself, but as the zany problems mounted as the series progressed, I felt like Miles watching his potential slip away. That’s particularly apparent in the disappointing finale, which reels in red herrings to move the plot along and ends on a reveal that leaves things open to a second season without going into too much detail of what that will look like. If you’re a Rudd fan, keep your expectations tempered and you’ll be happy.
TV Guide Rating: 3/5
Living With Yourself premieres Friday, Oct. 18 on Netflix.