Paul Rudd is Not Feeling Like Himself

The first season of the new streaming comedy Living with Yourself just dropped on Netflix. Each of the eight episodes is under 30 minutes, so the entire season can be binged in a night. It is worth a watch.

Paul Rudd (most recently, Ant-Man) plays the starring (dual) role. Irish-born Aisling Bea costars as his wife.

Dual role? Rudd’s character, Miles Elliot, is a sad-sack advertising copywriter who hears of a spa that offers clients a whole new outlook on life. It is not cheap, so he secretly withdraws tens of thousands of dollars from their joint checking and heads to the spa, which is in a tacky strip mall. He has doubts about going in but meets Tom Brady, who is coming out and says it is his sixth visit. Brady is a very satisfied customer.

But instead of a seaweed wrap and high colonic, Miles will get his DNA tweaked by the two jokers who run the place. He will lose his depression and neuroses and gain confidence. He will no longer need glasses. He will be a social and business success.

And they do improve his DNA—for his clone, which they make without his knowledge and copy his memory too. Miles wakes that night in a shallow grave in a forest, where all the other clients, including six Tom Bradys, are buried. All of them were gassed to death, but Miles has survived and must re-enter his own life, now inhabited by his clone, who thinks he is the real thing.

The series skillfully breezes past disbelief. With current technology, reproductive clones start as somatic cells and grow at normal speeds. Not clonish Paul Rudd, played by Paul Rudd. He springs forth fully formed, the same age as original Miles, and while he has all the same memories, he has never so much as kissed Miles’ wife, who thinks he is Miles in a much better mood. You can see where this is going.

Rudd usually plays affable types but here must wield an ax in the manner of Jack Torrance and draw a pistol on himself, as well as on himself. He reportedly hesitated to take a Netflix series, but this has extended his range. There are also several secondary roles made memorable by their actors, including a Holocaust survivor who knows a liar because he was one; the fake-spa employee who fakes his Asian accent; and Miles’ half-sister, who likes New-and-Improved Miles better than Original.

Emotions are most real in the series where they are most needed. You might call them predictable, if “true” can be called that. Miles’ wife is attracted to Improved Miles, for all the reasons she had grown frustrated with Original. But she has loved a certain man, who inhabits a certain body, and the series acknowledges this is not something flippantly undone if we are to respect her character.

At the same time, the series cuts loose with odd, even surreal, twists to keep things unpredictable and fun, including the kidnapping of Miles by rogue FDA agents who hold him prisoner and ridiculously interrogate him, for only half-reporting violations of cloning law.

Over the course of the season, the two Miles argue who is Jekyll and who is Hyde, and there are nods to Frankenstein, including one aborted attempt to make a Bride of. It is interesting that doppelgänger does not strictly apply, since they are nearly identical biologically, but the “bad luck” part of that term is built into the show, including its title. The doppelgänger notion of “mirroring” is played with, so the POVs of both Miles are used in some events, especially as a transitional element between episodes. They are edited hard and provide new information, so they are not redundant and slow. In doppelgänger fashion, too, it seems as if the only thing that will break their tie is one destroying the other.

There is no word on a second season of Living yet. Creator Timothy Greenberg toldThe Hollywood Reporter, “I have ideas for what could be future seasons. But we definitely talked about how we wanted it to have an arc this season that was entire unto itself. Somewhat because, what if there is only one season? Then we can walk away feeling happy.”

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.