What does a more perfect version of Paul Rudd look like? The actor has been dazzling us with his perfect smile, buoyant energy and ageless looks since the mid-90s. He makes the move to TV with stunning results in “Living with Yourself,” the latest Netflix comedy. Shockingly, considering Rudd’s presence, the show features even fewer laughs than fellow dramedy “Dead to Me,” starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. Yet, the show succeeds at being a moving, emotional and (at times) funny, high concept escapade that consistently surprises during its eight episode run.
Paul Rudd stars as Miles Elliott (Paul Rudd) a mid-level marketing grunt who feels stuck in a major rut. Things aren’t much better at home, where Miles and his wife Kate (Aisling Bea) struggle with infertility. Miles’ grumpiness only gets exacerbated when Dan, a coworker (Desmin Borges), waltzes into a meeting with boundless energy. Dan recommends a very expensive spa to Miles, who cashes in his fertility treatment funds and heads to a lonely strip mall where the spa sits. Upon arrival, Miles notices something is up with the spa, which looks like an ‘80s sci-fi nightmare. Before long, Miles burrows from a shallow grave in the woods, dressed only in a diaper. He embarks on a long journey home, only to discover a cloned version of himself in bed with his wife.
It speaks to Rudd’s talent that Miles and his clone feel completely unique, despite very few physical differences. The two Miles must find ways to co-exist, keeping secret what had gone on at the strip-mall spa. This yields some immediate comic set-pieces, including one where Miles perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his clone. Clone Miles dazzles both Miles’ bosses and charms Kate and her friends. Meanwhile, Miles gets to enjoy the easy life and with his own version of relaxing “spa” time. Yet, Miles quickly feels replaced by the new Miles, who coincidentally shares the same memories. Rather than move into a Will Ferrell-type man-child fight, the show makes a smarter move. Rudd flings us into Miles’ feelings of inadequacies. Even after “doing nothing” for a short time, he struggles to remember what made him special in the first place.
The clone’s ebullient personality resembles Rudd’s typical on-screen persona. Rudd channels his normal charisma and turns it just a hair to show us a new side to his perfection. This counters well with his work as the real Miles, who carries himself with a slump both in posture and in his face. If the clone comes off more like the Rudd we know, the original Miles feels like the lost Duplass brother. He’s a mumble-core middle management cog that resents how small he feels in his own life. The physical changes between the two are minute. Yet, the experience of being in the presence of each of them differs tremendously.
Rudd isn’t the only strong performer. Aisling Bea emerges as a bright new talent through her great work. The Irish actress starts as a caricature of the beleaguered wife. But, when the show turns to her POV midway through the season, Bea rises to the occasion. She re-frames Kate’s experiences in a clear and detailed fashion. Her performance makes the audience question what role we thought Kate would play in the narrative. Bea makes Kate less of a plot accessory and more of a story driver with her own wants, needs and desires. While Rudd gets saddled with lots of antics with his clone, Bea’s Kate becomes the one to add texture and detail to their marriage.
Directed by “Little Miss Sunshine” helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris, the show hums along with a quirky charm. In fact, it most closely resembles their film “Ruby Sparks,” a fantastical dramedy that deconstructed the trope of the manic pixie dream girl. In some ways, this does the same with the idealized version of Paul Rudd.
Creator Timothy Greenberg, a “Daily Show” producing alum, manages to weave the zany with the dramatic really well. The show works well as a bingeable story, bouncing between genres and tone. Bingeing the show also helps smooth over some of the hokier plot points. A pitch for a power company takes undue time away from key emotional conflicts. The writing repeatedly tries to mine this subplot for larger tension. Instead, it just becomes a repeated detour or red herring.
Overall, “Living with Yourself” represents the sort of oddball hidden gem that has come to personify Netflix. The genre blend is not for everyone. Additionally, it takes an episode or two to fully get on the page. Once one plows through the eight episode series, they’ll find themselves satisfied by smart storytelling, strong performances and a unique take on the premise.