18 October 2019 22:33

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'Living With Yourself' review: Two Paul Rudds are better than one

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. From the start of Netflix black comedy Living With Yourself, streaming now, you know you're in for some weird, funny Rudd. Then Miles undergoes "ultrarapid cloning plus micro-synaptic memory transfer," a novel spa treatment that rebuilds your DNA to make you a better version of yourself. It's like Black Mirror meets Big, with a bit of rom-com tossed in as Original Miles struggles to regain the affections of his once-adoring wife.

Original Miles escapes his grave to discover that the cheerful New Miles has swooped in to his house and marriage to live his life. Original Miles immediately resents New Miles, who likes to smugly remind him of his failings, but he also needs his clone's help, especially at work, where he's fast falling out of favor. Rudd plays the two versions of Miles with such subtle but distinctive differences, it's easy to forget they're two sides of the same person. Paul Rudd has tackled a range of roles, but Netflix's Living With Yourself is the first time the actor had to wrap his mind around playing two versions of the same character. The eight-episode sci-fi dramedy, created and written by Timothy Greenberg, stars Rudd as Miles, an unsatisfied, middle-aged man who finds himself meandering about his marriage, job and life, having seemingly given up on the idea that things could be better.

In a clever two-episode opening arc, Old Miles must confront New Miles — a better, cheerier and refreshed version of himself who is now settling into his life. By the time the script made its way to Rudd, the Marvel actor had a tightened and complete eight-episode story ready for his review. Similar to other recent, existential TV offerings like Amazon's Forever, Netflix's Russian Doll and NBC's The Good Place, part of the fun of watching Living With Yourself is going in somewhat blind to the very binge-able and theoretical twists and turns that await as the story unfolds. "I thought this was a really high-concept way of dealing with the actual themes of the show," says Rudd of larger life questions surrounding happiness. After polling around town to see how others have approached a dual TV or film role in the past, the team realized quickly that there was no one way — particularly since Living With Yourself requires Old Miles and New Miles to often be in the same frame.

Because the season was filmed in block shooting and out of order, Rudd would often jump back and forth from Old to New Miles and across various episodes. Keeping track, he admits, was like a "jigsaw puzzle" and would sometimes require helpful reminders from Greenberg and the script supervisor about what had happened in the prior scene for the Miles'. "Striking that balance came from our understanding of who each character is, like who New Miles is and what does it mean to have the same memories but not the same physical experiences? "I don't know why it's a thing now, other then I feel like science-fiction has become much more prevalent in popular culture than it was maybe 20, 30 years ago. Something about that concept scared him then and stuck with him enough throughout the years that he revisited it in multiple story ideas, finally selling it as "Living With Yourself," an eight-episode comedy for Netflix that stars Paul Rudd. However, there was some freedom to embrace lighter moments through New Miles, who Rudd notes is experiencing things for the first time. "Living With Yourself" packs a lot of story into the eight episodes because the show first considers sending New Miles off on his own but then pulls him back quickly to keep Miles' world complicated. He remembers having those fights, but it doesn't mean that much because he's not weighed down by the pain and the fear and the nicks and cuts and bruises you get as you go through life," Greenberg says of New Miles. Four-and-a-half years ago when Greenberg was first working on this script, Rudd was at the top of the list for who he'd want to play both versions of Miles, in part because it was easy for him to imagine Rudd playing New Miles with that sense of "optimism and bright, loveableness that [Rudd's] famous for." But above that, he felt Rudd has "immense charisma" that lends itself to making the original version of Miles, who is "darker and more questioning and depressed," more engaging. "Early on when he was still debating doing it, we would read through the scripts together and Paul understood things about these characters and touchstones from his life," Greenberg says. Over the course of the first season of "Living With Yourself," Miles and New Miles were often in competition with each other and even attempted to kill each other, but by the end they came to a sense of acceptance of themselves and their situation and appear to be ready to be an extended family with their wife (Aisling Bea), who announced she was pregnant. That's how you form a full-formed human being that has good parts and bad parts, and maybe the bad parts are actually good parts, and we probably need to accept ourselves for who we are and continually work on changing the things that can get better," says Rudd. So when he plays, in Netflix's new high-concept comedy "Living With Yourself," a depressed, inert man nearing middle age who accidentally winds up with a sexier, smarter and more energetic clone, it's hard to imagine the series would be nearly as successful without him.