Timothy Greenberg’s leaden, frustrating series is too lackadaisical to explore its clone-centric premise.
Living with Yourself is the latest in Netflix’s never-ending onslaught of original content; unfortunately, it’s also another example of how the streaming service seems to value quantity over quality. As the first show for head writer Timothy Greenberg (Peabody award winner and former producer of The Daily Show), it’s something of a mess.
It stars Paul Rudd as Miles, a suburban worker bee bored with himself and his life for reasons that never feel entirely clear. His relationship with his wife is rocky and he’s struggling at work, which coworker Dan (Desmin Borges) notices. Dan encourages him to head to a mysterious spa that he claims transformed his whole life.
A day later, despite the hefty $50,000 price tag and the somewhat unbelievable premise that anyone would take advice from a person as obnoxious as Dan, Miles is on his way to the spa and ready for his new life to begin. Unfortunately, after his visit, he wakes up in an unmarked grave and realizes that a better version of himself has taken his place. With two Mileses and only one life, the pair will have to figure out how to navigate it.
If the premise seems a little muddied, that’s because it is. It pulls the best parts of things like The One I Love and more recently, Undone, to create something far, far less interesting. “But,” you must be thinking, “how can that be if there are not one but two Paul Rudds in this?!” And dear reader, I know. I know. It pains me, a person that genuinely enjoyed both Ant-Man movies, to admit. While Paul Rudd may be one of Hollywood’s only true darlings, not even he manages to be entertaining enough to make the show feel worthwhile.
That’s because everything we like about Paul Rudd is stamped down here or pushed out. There’s no dry wit or affable everyman charm. And it’s not simply because Miles isn’t likable. Rudd proved he could play the shitty husband and still be entertaining in Knocked Up. Here, though, there’s so much less context for why Miles is the way he is or even what’s really going on in his marriage and there’s no discernable reason why Greenberg is so intent on hiding it from us.
As the season moves forward, Miles—particularly his relationship with his wife Kate (Aisling Bea)—slowly comes into focus, but never completely. The pair butt heads over Miles’s constant delaying of the IVF process. He perpetually puts off his doctor’s appointment and Kate sort of sighs and rolls with it. When Miles takes the money they’d been saving to have a baby and spends it on his trip to the mystery spa, he goes from run-of-the-mill unlikeable into despicable, but the show never really holds him accountable for his actions here.
Everything we like about Paul Rudd is stamped down here or pushed out.
Much more space is given to Kate when she makes her own misstep in their marriage, begging Miles’s forgiveness, but honestly, I couldn’t help thinking she still had every right to be mad as hell herself. This isn’t to say Kate is complacent the entire time; she isn’t. It’s just that the emotions given weight in each scene feel haphazardly chosen. You’re never really sure why anyone feels the way they do about anything unless you make a ton of assumptions, and that’s simply not the way a story should work.
Characters appear and disappear without ever serving any real purpose, Alia Shawkat’s appearance as Miles’s half-sister is perhaps the worst offender. She pops up and their entire relationship is a mystery. She exists only to dole out some relatively unhelpful advice and then poof—she’s gone. Even the fact that the Living with Yourself centers around cloning and the moralistic and philosophical quandaries that come with it is somehow made dull.
What all of this really speaks to is the inability of the show to make you care about what’s happening. It falls prey to the trap of trying to preserve and enhance its mysteries by holding back essential revelations about characters and relationships. Unfortunately, all that really does is muddle things so badly that every episode, no matter how many objectively bizarre plot twists occur, is a frustrating yawn. Even at 30 minutes an episode and only eight episodes at that, Living with Yourself just isn’t worth your time.
Living With Yourself hits Netflix October 18.