Paul Rudd claws his way out of a shallow grave in the forest, wearing only plastic wrap and a diaper. From the start of Netflix black comedy Living With Yourself, streaming now, you know you're in for some weird, funny Rudd. Double the Rudd, in fact, as he plays two versions of the same character -- often in the same scene.
Rudd is Miles Elliott, a marketing whiz who's lost his mojo for his job, his marriage and just about everything else.
Once an award-winning "branding bard," he now misses meetings and deadlines and has dark circles under his eyes and dribbles of toothpaste on his dark shirts. His ennui isn't lost on his wife (Irish comedian Aisling Bea), who's grown tired of her husband's sour moods and would rather spend her nights next to him in bed staring at the wall than staring into his dead eyes.
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. Thus, we get New Miles, who's bursting with creative inspiration and has smoother skin, better hair and more colorful shirts than Original Miles.
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. But at its core, the thoroughly enjoyable Living With Yourself -- created by Timothy Greenberg, an Emmy-winning former producer of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart -- is about the ways we battle ourselves. It's about the voices in our heads telling us we're not good enough or smart enough or attractive enough or lovable enough, and an exploration of what enough really is anyway.
It's also a timely bit of futurism, as Miles' procedure seems strangely plausible in an era of gene-editing tools like CRISPR. Thing is, while the schlocky scientists who perform the treatment usually kill off the person who's been cloned, they don't succeed this time. 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. Will the slick New Miles help Original Miles or sabotage him? At times, the show veers into horror movie turf as the new and improved Miles appears threatening, maybe even dangerous, and the lighting and music turn foreboding to match the mood. But those shifts are part of what keeps the series engaging even when the premise feels too thin for eight episodes that run around half an hour each.
With two Miles Elliotts to follow here, the plot could have gotten confusing, but well-executed flashbacks make everything clear. We learn, for example, that Miles used to be a charismatic raconteur and an attentive husband who supported his wife through her miscarriage. It seems Miles descended into a dark place after the couple moved from New York City to the suburbs, fell into a staid routine and still couldn't start a family. Yet to Kate's disappointment, perpetually unmotivated Miles keeps canceling appointments to get his sperm tested at the fertility clinic. He can be a real pain.
It's no surprise then, that Kate finds herself drawn to New Miles. Maybe she'd be happier with the better version of the man she fell in love with. If he's indeed better, that is. The lovely, lilting Bea is sympathetic as a woman who's tired, bitter and partially checked out of her marriage, but never totally loses sight of why she loves her husband.
The series is at its best when the versatile and effortlessly comic Rudd acts opposite himself, switching from smarmy to downtrodden to just plain charming with a simple smirk or eyebrow twitch. 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. Both have their insufferable moments, but they also have their lovable ones, and the opposing sides struggle to find an uneasy peace.
In a couple of scenes, it's literally a Rudd-on-Rudd wrestling match. "I hate you," Original Miles yells at New Miles. The reply? "I am you." Miles' greatest enemy is himself. And who among us can't relate to that?
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Originally published Oct. 13.