There’s no denying it; we all love Paul Rudd. Whether it be stealing scenes in Marvel movies or being the male lead in anything bearing the name of Judd Apatow, to apparently being immortal and never having looked like he has aged, to pranking Conan O’Brien with Mac and Me clips, to those early days when he made his name in a Halloween sequel and winning over the heart of Cher in Clueless, Paul Rudd is that guy everyone loves.
So, when Netflix announced that he was to star in a comedy for them with a cloning theme and that he would be playing two parts in the series, it was understandable to get excited. Here is one of Hollywood’s funniest about to star in an eight-part, thirty-minute comedy for a streaming service that is really good at producing those types of show.
Irish comedy actress Aisling Bea was cast as the female lead, and Little Miss Sunshine and Battle of the Sexes directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton were going to direct all eight episodes.
What could go wrong?
Well, a lot, actually.
Look, Living with Yourself is not terrible, and going by searching it up on social media sites, it’s clear that a lot of people got on board with it, but have you ever had that feeling of a series or movie getting to you in the wrong way? Well, that was what happened with me the longer Living with Yourself continued.
The concept is solid, for sure. There are elements here from the 1996 Harold Ramis film Multiplicity (you know, the one with four Michael Keaton’s) and Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation (the one with two Nicholas Cage’s) and on watching Living with Yourself, it seems like Timothy Greenberg’s teleplays for the series really want to be a combination of those two things, but with a tone and style that leans heavily more into the surreal side of Kaufman’s work.
It’s hard to know if a more straightforward take would have worked. You have to admire movies or television shows that aim high, even if they miss, but Living with Yourself, which runs for a little over four hours, becomes increasingly frustrating the longer it goes on for.
Things start promisingly with the image of Rudd’s character Miles waking up apparently having been buried alive in a forest filled with other unmarked graves. Flashing back to show you how he got to that point, it marks the first of many, many flashbacks within episodes to show you how characters got to the point they have gotten to.
The structure of the series is one of its biggest annoyances. Events are frequently replayed from other character’s point of views and it’s clearly trying to do that Tarantino or Christopher Nolan thing of being non-linear. Television wise, it reminds one of the second season premiere of Lost when, brilliantly it should be said, the series devoted its first two episodes by dealing with the previous season’s cliff-hangers from multiple points of view that sometimes-replayed key events from different perspectives. When Lost did it, it felt like new information was genuinely being learned, but sometimes it feels as if Living with Yourself is only recounting information that could be easily deciphered by just paying attention.
It never feels like it truly earns the right to tell its story in that way, instead just inviting more frustration whenever a caption tells us it’s ‘twenty-four hours earlier’ or ‘two days earlier’.
The only time it ever really feels earned is in the fifth episode which flashes back beyond the first episode and shows Miles and his wife Kate (Irish actress Aisling Bea) dealing with a miscarriage but also buying their home for the first time, a time of sadness but also happiness that doesn’t hint at the rut their marriage will enter in later years.
Some of the relationship drama at the heart of Living with Yourself is where the series actually delivers some of its best work, with Rudd and Bea (and also Rudd again) delivering gut wrenching work that leaves one’s stomach in emotional knots whenever we see these characters, particularly Kate, make decisions that we kind of hope they won’t make.
The decision to make this a more stranger, surreal tale is welcome and means it should be even better than the broader clone based comedy that one expected from it, but honestly it never feels like Greenburg’s writing here quite manages to make it stick together in the manner that it should do and you cannot help but wish it took a more slapstick approach to the material.
It’s all backed by a ferocious Anna Meredith score, but in the end the series itself never feels like it fully gels together. Some lines of dialogue invoke some laughter, and the image of two Paul Rudd’s, one somewhat lazy and a bit of a slob, the other well dressed and put together, is fun and builds up to a wonderfully fun fight scene between the two that leaves one wondering how they put it together, although it also reminds one of Orphan Black and how that show managed to put multiple versions of Tatiana Maslany on screen in ways that seemed impossible but did so with genuinely great writing.
In fact, sometimes the series takes detours that never really feel earned or warranted, or worse, sometimes they are detours that never actually add anything to the series; the finale looks as if it’s going to pay off a reference to the FDA in the first episode when one of the Miles are arrested but it’s a ten minute detour that literally adds nothing to the series at all and is pretty much just a stop gap to fill in some time before the next confrontation. They may return to it in season two, should it get renewed, but it still leaves one thinking to themselves ‘what the hell were those ten minutes about?’.
In fact, it’s a sentiment that kind of sums up the entire series in a nutshell.