Paul Rudd may be known these days as the seemingly ageless funnyman who also helps the Avengers save the world from time to time as Ant-Man. But in the new dark comedy Living With Yourself, Rudd takes on a more grounded persona, one of a disaffected middle-aged guy stuck in a professional and emotional rut, watching as his hopes and dreams slowly pass him by.
That sort of workplace malaise and domestic ennui has been the source of many works of fiction, and in that sense, Living With Yourself is nothing new. But the series, from creator and writer Tim Greenberg and directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine, Battle of the Sexes), introduces a somewhat new angle to the story of a man who seemingly has everything and yet feels like he has nothing with a sci-fi twist, by cloning Rudd’s Miles and replacing him with a better version of himself. When the original Miles wakes up in the forest (an error on behalf of the company that cloned him), the series shifts into existential mode, wherein the original must compete with his better self if he wants to hold on to all he’s taken for granted.
Two times the Paul Rudd is probably great for an elevator pitch — and perhaps even a reason why this series was green-lighted in the first place — and it works here early on on a purely conceptual level. Much of that has to do with the inherent silliness of the premise and the degree to which the series is only tangentially interested in the science and, subsequently, the earth-shattering consequences of a rapid cloning procedure that somehow produces a copy with enhanced attributes. That Living With Yourself pays little attention to its science fiction elements — choosing to keep them secret from much of the world — strains the series' credulity and hinders Miles's story as he settles into a strained domestic routine with his better self, one that, not surprisingly, becomes competitive.
While less abstract science and more committed genre world-building isn’t necessarily the point of the series, Greenberg’s premise relies on it enough that number of leaps in logic he makes in order to move from outlandish sci-fi hypothesis to existential dark comedy ultimately leaves the series wanting. Instead of treating it as a routine, almost banal part of modern society — a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — or offering so few details on how the procedure works that it becomes little more than an afterthought, Living With Yourself lingers too long in its theoretical world, opening itself up to greater scrutiny of its rules and conditions. The ideas presented here are too big and too new to this world for them not to have a greater impact on the characters, making the degree to which they are glossed over, in favor of getting closer to certain core existential questions the series would rather explore, an enormous missed opportunity that’s difficult to overlook.
On the bright side, Rudd is as charming as ever, both as the disgruntled and disappointed Miles and as his new and improved (and increasingly smug) clone. Too often when an actor is asked to take on dual roles they either go to absurd extremes in differentiating the two, or they play them as so similar it requires a visual cheat (haircut, facial hair, etc.) in order tell them apart. While there is a visual component to the two Mileses — the original is sloppy and unshaven, while new Miles is, well, newer looking — Rudd also gives them two distinct personalities. Those personalities add a greater, albeit surprisingly bitter, dimension to the story, one that suggests life inevitably beats people down and one way (if not the only way) to find your happiness is to give yourself over to a manufactured kind of contentment and joy.
This is most evident in the characters played by Aisling Bea (This Way Up) and Desmin Borges (You’re the Worst). Bea plays Kate, Miles’s wife, who is eager to have a child, but can’t because couple is in need of some medical help in order to conceive. Meanwhile, Borges’s Dan, is Miles’s co-worker who also underwent the cloning procedure, but didn’t have his old self wake up buried in a shallow grave in the forest. While again, the implications of there being a dead Dan decomposing somewhere is unnerving and requires more acknowledgement than the series is willing to give, the idea underlines the better-living-through-science theme that’s recurrent throughout the narrative.
It’s unclear whether or not this was what Greenberg, Faris, and Dayton intended or if it’s simply an inadvertent byproduct of the story’s efforts to confront Miles’s discontent by pitting him against (and putting his potential offspring in the hands of) scientific progress run amok. The result, then, is a series that is anchored by a terrific lead performance from Rudd, but begins to fall apart too quickly around the seams of its ambitious, ultimately under-baked concept. While Bea and Borges, and an underused Alia Shawkat, are inviting additions to the series, their characters are underdeveloped to the point that they struggle to offer the additional emotional and character depth Living With Yourself could have benefited from.
Living With Yourself will stream exclusively on Netflix starting on Friday, October 18.