Published On: Fri, Oct 18th, 2019

Living With Yourself review: Netflix fuses sitcom humor with high-tech anxiety

Netflix’s Living with Yourself, which launches on October 18th, is in many ways a standard sitcom. Ant-Man’s Paul Rudd stars as Miles Eliot, a man whose marriage and career are floundering as he faces the general malaise of approaching middle age. The catch is that he attempts to get out of his familiar rut by cloning himself.

To be fair, that wasn’t actually his goal. Miles gets a tip from zero-turned-office-hero co-worker Dan (Desmin Borges of You’re the Worst) about a highly exclusive spa that gives its clients’ DNA a detox and lets them live up to their full potential. Desperate enough to pay Top Happy Spa’s $50,000 fee, Miles lies down in a treatment chair and wakes up as a new man, filled with a zest for life that has him sticking his head out car windows to breathe in the fresh air like a dog, cooking elaborate meals for his wife Kate (Aisling Bea), and outshining Dan at the office. The problem is that Original Miles wakes up in a body bag in a local forest preserve, and isn’t particularly happy to have a new and improved version of himself taking over his life.

The show’s eight, roughly 30-minute episodes largely alternate between the perspectives of Original Miles and his clone, demonstrating Rudd’s remarkable ability to play both a charming maniac and a worn-out schlub. It’s a transformation playfully shown off in a sequence where New Miles tries to act more like his progenitor by swapping out his crisp button-down shirt for a toothpaste-stained sweater, mussing his hair, lowering his voice a few notches, and sucking all enthusiasm from his tone. Almost every episode ends on a cliffhanger, and much of the series’ drama involves rewinding a sequence involving one Miles to show what the other version was up to at the time, and how it led to events playing out the way they did.

Conceptually, Living with Yourself is fairly similar to the 1996 Michael Keaton rom-com Multiplicity, with Miles quickly hatching a plan to have his clone do everything he doesn’t want to do, like going to work or hosting a party. But while Multiplicity largely leans on sexist clichés, with clones becoming more feminine or masculine based on what tasks they’re assigned, Living with Yourself writer-creator Timothy Greenberg stays more grounded by focusing on the question of how people can wrestle with the worst parts of their natures to become better people.

Photo: Netflix

In that way, Living with Yourself hews closer to The Good Place, which also uses a fantastical premise to explore the potential for self-improvement. Greenberg’s show is less whimsical, but he still inserts absurdist humor into many awkward situations, like the extremely unsettled look a cashier gives New Miles as she lists the items he’s picking up, including rope, a baseball bat, and a pillowcase he’s sized for his own head. The fast gags help break up Miles’ externalized personal struggles, as well as the tensions caused by both versions of him wanting to make things right with Kate.

Greenberg isn’t especially concerned with the science involved in his premise. He just barely explains that Top Happy makes a clone with some genes improved, then transfers memories from the original client, who’s typically killed in the process. The problem is that the rules feel wildly inconsistent. New Miles knows all the moves to the dance he and Kate choreographed for their wedding, which is repeatedly performed for both comedic and emotional effect, but he’s incredibly clumsy with her in bed. One of the defining differences between the two versions of Miles seems to be that the new one doesn’t feel any of the frustration or resentment that’s been weighing down the old one since he and Kate moved to the suburbs five years ago, after Kate’s failed first pregnancy. But it’s remarkably unclear why a DNA refresh would rid Miles of his actual disappointments, especially as cracks begin to form in his psyche as he fails to seize the life to which he feels entitled.

The dynamic between Kate and Miles is wonderful, though, and Kate can also stand on her own in scenes, like the one where she chews out her tantrum-throwing tech-mogul client, showing a keen understanding of the way men can be driven by insecurities. An episode from her perspective shows the strength her marriage to Miles once had, but the show doesn’t devote enough time to how it fell apart. It’s possible most of the blame is meant to be put on Kate’s failure to get pregnant, with Miles made culpable because he ducked a fertility test appointment for two years. But that seems too simple an explanation, given that Greenberg is otherwise delivering fairly nuanced examinations about how people grow and change together.

Photo: Netflix

Instead of further developing the show’s core relationship, Greenberg spends a surprising amount of time setting up plots that will only come to fruition if Living With Yourself is renewed for future seasons. New Miles takes the lead on an advertising project meant to help a telecommunications company win a big contract, but Original Miles’ attempts to prove he’s a professional match for his clone draw him into a web of corporate intrigue that’s only hinted at in the first season. While this subplot plays to one of the show’s main themes, that even good intentions can have terrible unintended consequences, its hinted menace doesn’t solidify enough in the first season to feel worth the time.

The personal catharsis meant to be delivered in the season’s final episode, “Nice Knowing You,” feels particularly rushed due to the storyline involving a pair of hapless FDA agents trying to prove human cloning is real. Their bumbling brand of comedy feels like it’s meant to mirror the police plots in Barry, but it’s underdeveloped and just gives way to a dumb scene where a thirsty Miles, locked in a breast-pumping room, resorts to drinking stored milk rather than using a presumably working sink.

While several scenes in Living with Yourself are too underlit, obscuring both sex and the show’s brief flurries of Miles-on-Miles violence, it otherwise delivers some impressively varied visuals. Set decorator Sarah McMillan did a great job with Top Happy Spa, making it simultaneously look like a cliché New Age spa, a business that would get raided for illicit prostitution, and a weird-science emporium. The ad agency where Miles works perfectly embodies a particular brand of extremely corporate edginess, with a practically glowing white conference room featuring wall mantras like “rebels love Mondays” and “you’re either in the pool or you’re out of the pool.” A nursery Miles painted with a cheerful elephant has become a cluttered mess used for storage. Each space is loaded with meaning that reflects back on the script to show how Miles has gotten to this place in his life, and to suggest what he might be able to do to move forward.

Living with Yourself isn’t particularly original, but it’s a well-executed fusion of sitcom standards and technological anxiety, anchored by a versatile star. Greenberg clearly has some big ambitions. Given the time to develop them, he could find new ways to recombine the DNA of multiple TV genres into something novel and highly entertaining.

In America, the eight-episode first season of Living With Yourself launches on Netflix on October 18th.

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Living With Yourself review: Netflix fuses sitcom humor with high-tech anxiety