Netflix’s “Living with Yourself” doesn’t know what type of show it is. All the ingredients for a high-concept, existential character exploration are there, but the show strives, more than anything else, to be a sitcom.
This isn’t inherently bad — a number of modern television shows are able to successfully bridge the gap between comedy and drama, melding genres and crafting complex, compelling protagonists while remaining thoroughly entertaining.
And yet, despite the show’s following of these general principles, there’s something about “Living with Yourself” that feels incomplete. Perhaps it’s because in its pursuit of telling its story over one short season of eight tight episodes, the events of the show play out too quickly, leaving little to the imagination. But more likely, it’s because the show simply isn’t very funny.
“Living with Yourself” follows Miles Elliot (Paul Rudd), a middle-aged man who heeds the advice of a friend to go visit a new spa treatment center, which promises to rejuvenate clients to the extent that they emerge as better versions of themselves. But soon after Miles undergoes this treatment, he discovers that he has been replaced by a clone (also Rudd, who manages to look shockingly distinct) — an almost identical version of himself but more attractive, charismatic and kind.
The original Miles, who survives the cloning treatment (most clients are killed shortly after), is now forced to live alongside the new, “superior” version of himself. The problem? “New” Miles still shares all the same memories as “old” Miles, and both men must grapple with the fact that the rest of the world — including Miles’ friends, families, coworkers and wife, Kate (Aisling Bea) — isn’t aware of the multiple existences.
The premise of the show as a whole may sound like enough to make it a compelling watch. The science fiction plotline sounds like one straight out of “Black Mirror” and benefits from the sheer charm and talent of its lead star — a dynamic comedy mainstay that comes to the show straight off of his successful run in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What’s more, the series is written by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the team behind delightful films such as 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine” and 2017’s “Battle of the Sexes.” The show’s director, Timothy Greenberg, was an executive producer on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
But despite the strong talent behind and in front of the camera, “Living with Yourself” falls flat.
The storyline plays out briskly over the course of eight episodes, but this never leaves audiences with enough time to consider the implications of any events in individual episodes. The pacing, which never lets the show become too boring, also never gives any of the characters enough room to truly develop, and the mechanism of cloning is hardly explored after the beginning. It’s almost impossible to see how there are traces of “old” Miles in his clone, and as the characters grapple with their new realities, they eventually stop considering the implications of how their realities came to be in the first place.
While Rudd distinguishes between his characters effectively, neither version of Miles is really developed. While the clone is understandably a one-dimensional embodiment of “perfection,” we don’t fully understand why “old” Miles is perpetually disgruntled and dissatisfied with his own life. And despite her own strengths and charisma as a performer, Aisling Bea is given little to do in her supporting role as Miles’ wife, Kate. Kate has almost no backstory, and her relationship with Miles never seems to deepen beyond what the audience is directly exposed to, making the relationship between Kate and Miles — the central narrative force of the show — rather unconvincing.
Of course, all of this could be overlooked if the script managed to come across as genuinely funny, which it simply isn’t. Dialogue follows traditional dark comedy beats, and when placed in a science fiction context, it feels dated and unengaging. The show relies on the charm of its leads to come across as “comedic,” but the script simply fails to generate laughs on its own.
Despite crisp, entertaining pacing and solid lead performances from Rudd and Bea, “Living with Yourself” never fully rises above the intrigue of its high-concept premise. The show’s adamance on being labeled a comedy means that it never fully explores its science fiction setting, while failing to generate enough laughter to sustain its surface level character and plot exploration. The season’s ending is ambiguous — this could reasonably be the end for its characters, but a second season isn’t completely off the board. One can only hope that unlike the series’ reliance on two Paul Rudds, when it comes to a new season, a second time will indeed be a charm.