This review originally posted on October 13, 2019
For those who are stressed, overloaded with work, bored with routine and weighed down by life’s daily frustrations, the desire for lasting rejuvenation is a dream. It’s why we shell out so much money for “wellness” cures, trying to use crystals or biohacks or targeted therapies to revive us and make us feel less tired, and less like we’re constantly at war with time. Some of those things do work—to some degree, for a little while at least—but what if that feeling could be permanent? That’s what’s on offer, seemingly, for Miles (Paul Rudd) in Netflix’s Living with Yourself, where one very expensive spa treatment allows you to become an entirely new you.
That description, in this case, is also literally accurate. Instead of getting his current mind and body tuned up, Miles is just given a new one. The spa clones him exactly, and then kills off his old version—or tries to. After a botched procedure, Original Miles wakes up in a shallow grave and runs back to his house and his wife Kate (Aisling Bea), only to find that he’s already there. This New Miles, who doesn’t realize he’s a clone, is better than Old Miles in every way. He’s more engaged in his relationship, he’s an inspiration at work, and he’s a friend to everyone he meets. New Miles is thrilled to be alive, but doesn’t know why. Old Miles is there to tell him.
Beneath its early veneer of “woe to the plight of the wealthy but bored middle-aged white man!” Living with Yourself does speak to some relatable truths when it comes to burnout, and a bizarre jealousy of your best self. In a particularly damning scene, New Miles goes off to work while Old Miles settles down at his laptop, excited to dive back in to a play he stopped working on years ago. But as the days pass, he falls into more recent patterns of behavior—that of a layabout, a slob, and a petulant bore. That’s who he really is. New Miles thrives, and yet, there’s something uncanny about it.
The basic premise of Living with Yourself has been explored before, including the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors and the recent Starz series Counterpart. In the former, the two Goops never meet one another, they are just living parallel lives where the original version continues to languish as the new version thrives (though ultimately both cannot go on; only one reality can exist). In Counterpart, the two “others” (played by J.K. Simmons) began as one and then split into two later in life, making different choices that turned them into completely different men. After meeting one another, though, they start to pick up traits from the other, both ultimately working towards something better. But again, eventually, they have to make a choice about who stays and who goes.
Living with Yourself, created by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart), kinda wants to have it both ways, and by the end of the eight-episode season, it has explored how that could work (and also how it doesn’t). To its credit, the show doesn’t keep the secret of the two Mileses hidden for long, which leads to a more interesting narrative turn. It helps, too, that the episodes are short (running about 25 minutes each), easily bingeable, and a lot of issues with the script—including the incredibly privileged lives of the leads—are covered up by the exceptional charisma of Rudd and Bea (a breakout star who does her best with thin material.)
Another plus is that Living with Yourself doesn’t make everything just about Original Miles. New Miles gets the story told from his own perspective, and the same is true for Kate in the season’s most affecting episode. Rudd does a good job of making the two Mileses distinct, yet almost too much so. It’s hard to imagine, from the start, that New Miles and Old Miles are actually the same person. New Miles is no the villain; neither is Old Miles.
Because of that, Living with Yourself shuffles past metaphor and into something far more practical (and ultimately strange), with a muddled throughline that begins with what could just be a standalone episode of The Twilight Zone, moves into a morality tale about taking your life for granted, and then becomes The Odd Couple. Though there are some missteps (comedic and otherwise) throughout these episodes, it fits in well with Netflix’s binge-and-purge model of storytelling. The season (presumably this isn’t a series finale) concludes abruptly, having postulated a number of interesting questions but never really diving deeply into any of them. The initial “what if?” is extrapolated enough to overcome a shaky first episode, but also never becomes must-see. This isn’t just a story about connecting with a younger, more exuberant self or a reminder that this life is our own and equal to what we make of it. At some point, it just becomes the story of two very different men who happen to share a face. Like many wellness cures, it’s interesting but not particularly effective.
Living with Yourself premieres Friday, October 18th on Netflix.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV