Review by C.J. Bunce
Everyone likes Paul Rudd, right? Rudd is the center of a new comedy-drama on Netflix that began this weekend, Living with Yourself. And his fans won’t be disappointed. The same struggling character reaching for success–but just missing it–in shows like Ant-Man, Anchorman, and Clueless is back, but this time his character is actually characters, plural, and, like Ant-Man, this show has a sci-fi twist.
In fact you could spend the 3.5 hours of the eight episode, half-hour series spotting all the sci-fi tropes picked up in the script by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show). It all begins with a twist on Orson Scott Card’s short story Fat Farm (found in Isaac Asimov, George R.R. Martin, and Martin Greenberg’s collection, The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book). In that story, a person goes to a secret clinic to lose weight, not realizing he is actually being cloned, and the “real” him shuffled off to a work farm for the rest of his life, while “new him” returns to his life slim and trim not knowing the difference. In Living with Yourself, it’s Rudd’s character Miles who is unhappy not with his weight but his underachievement and overall dissatisfaction with himself. A co-worker puts him onto a pricey spa that can solve his problems, which turns out to be a third-rate, pop-up cloning shop, where, unknown to clients, they get replaced with like-new clones of themselves and their old selves get suffocated and buried in the woods. The cloning tech isn’t quite so refined so Miles experiences something like Total Recall’s schizoid embolism–instead of killing Miles’ older self, he wakes up in a shallow grave and must confront his new, cloned self.
This all plays out like another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Twins, with old Miles left to forge ahead with his stale, unrefined DNA and new Miles “cleaned” and ready to conquer the world. But this is just in the first half hour. If you stay around for all eight episodes (and Rudd is fun playing two characters, so why not?), expect to catch scenes straight out of Multiplicity, Gattaca, Rachel Rising, The Last Jedi, Harry Potter, even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and more. Rudd’s performance in dual roles is done so much in the actor’s laid back style that the double duty goes unnoticed, seamlessly, until the two halves confront each other in the season finale. It’s not that kind of complex, award-winning visual effects work we saw from Tatiana Maslany as a dozen-plus characters in Orphan Black, but it doesn’t need to be. The series hits on the classic internal struggle of man versus self, but this is first and foremost a comedy.
Not as laugh-out-loud funny as recent hits like Amazon’s Catastrophe or Fleabag, or Netflix’s Russian Doll, Living with Yourself is its best in the first four episodes, but then the drama takes over. If you’re after wacky Paul Rudd, then the rest may not be what you’re after. When Living with Yourself gets dark, it gets really dark, including Miles attempting suicide, which would be hard for any Rudd fan to watch; another scene focuses on the aftermath of his wife losing a baby. In total the series has some thoughtful science fiction of the cautionary tale sub-genre, the kind the streaming networks have been supplying recently like Rudd’s Ant-Man co-star Michael Peña’s sci-fi film Extinction, Amanda Seyfried and Clive Owen’s Anon, and Robbie Amell’s ARQ. Living with Yourself is a series, not a film, which leads to the next observation: Like so many streaming series on Netflix and other providers, the series could stand to have been edited down (thankfully it’s eight, not the usual ten episodes). Here, the 3.5 hours would have probably made an even better two-hour movie. A few scenes are also needlessly gross and some of the scenes repetitive, so there’s room for the editing scissors.
The show uses the concept of mirrored perspectives, bouncing back and forth with a follow-up episode repeating what happened in the previous episode but from a different character’s viewpoint. It does this a lot for an eight-episode show, but each time it pays off for the story and the audience. The ending has a set-up for a future story line, but it somehow doesn’t seem enough to warrant a second season. This was a good idea, a clean quick show to swallow, even if it skips over all the details thanks to some iffy directorial choices that would bother you in a strict drama. But Rudd is primed with his Marvel Cinematic Universe fame to be an A-list star and this seems more like a good B-level TV show like all big-time comedic actors today had early in their careers.
Keep an eye out for cameos by Law & Order regular Leslie Hendrix and Sonic restaurant ad man Peter Grosz. Aisling Bea (The Fall) has some particularly compelling dramatic scenes as Miles’ wife Kate, the crux of most of the problems old Miles must face. But her best scenes are away from Miles, and together the duo never has much by way of romantic chemistry.
Skip the Netflix “making of” feature, which is full of spoilers, until you’ve watched the entire season.
It’s good enough, not great, but worth the ride, especially for fans of Rudd and all things sci-fi. All eight first season episodes of Living with Yourself are streaming now only on Netflix.