Arts and Entertainment

Paul Rudd x 2 = “Living With Yourself”

Jacqueline Thom reviews “Living With Yourself,” a new Netflix show starring Paul Rudd that takes on the doppelganger trope.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Auuuuhghghghnnnnnnnuhnnnnnnauuuughhhwaaahhumphhhhhghhhh!” This is the first line we hear in Paul Rudd’s new Netflix show “Living With Yourself.” It’s a memorable one, and a line that immediately lets viewers know what kind of show they’re watching. While Rudd is merely making a loud sound of fear, to us, it is a scream of anguish, hurt, regret, and even a little hilarity: themes which form the whole premise of the show.

“Living With Yourself” chronicles the debacle that ensues after Miles Elliot, an ordinary man whose work life and relationship with his wife are deteriorating, decides to go to a mysterious spa that is supposed to make him, and therefore his life, perfect. After a “small” mishap, Elliot wakes up from his spa treatment to realize that he’s been cloned, and there’s not enough in his life to go around.

If a spa that purports to make you into your perfect self doesn’t already sound pretty crazy, writer and creator Timothy Greenberg makes it all the more so by creating a cast of comically serious but realistic characters. Elliot is familiar to all of us: he’s unkempt, constantly tired and confused, and feels like he’s in constant limbo at work and at home. Clone Elliot, on the other hand, is well-dressed, engaging, outgoing, and living the time of his life. He’s the “perfect” Elliot. Opposite Rudd is Irish actress Aisling Bea, who plays Elliot’s wife, Kate. “Living With Yourself” takes great care to represent her side of the story as she experiences life with the original Elliot and their fraying marriage, before taking her own steps to get her life together. Bea is phenomenal in her role where even her facial expressions say so much about how she’s feeling. Unlike with Elliot, the music changes to reflect Bea’s moods, from upbeat Irish music to more somber tones as things seem to be in upheaval.

As with many of the films that Paul Rudd stars in, he is a major creative force behind his projects, bringing greater depth and spirit to them. That hasn’t changed for television. Rudd shows off his adaptability throughout the series; though he plays two characters, the chemistry between them is realistic and entertaining as episodes alternate between the viewpoints of dreary, pessimistic Elliot and charming, bright-eyed Clone Elliot. Paul Rudd no longer represents the underdog whose kindness, occasional clumsiness, and good humor helps him prevail. This time, he seriously puts his versatility on full display.

Bea, like Rudd, also doesn’t hold back her talent. Though she is better known as a stand-up comedian and sitcom actress, Bea can just as easily take on dramatic roles. In fact, it’s Bea’s ability to do just that—deliver funny lines with the utmost seriousness and skepticism—that enables her character to be so relatable and deep. When Kate unknowingly meets Clone Elliot, who is a dramatically happier and more loving person than she’s used to, Kate’s sarcasm levels are through the roof, furrowed brows and Irish accent making it more so. Her increasingly erratic behavior when she finds out about the existence of the two Elliots, and how she decides to cope with it all, is unleashed in a fierce dialogue between Kate and herself. She’s not sure which Elliot she wants to stay or if she can even forgive Elliot for cloning himself. This kind of acting that seamlessly traverses different emotions in a way that is so very human is exactly what makes Bea stand out as an actress, one that will hopefully manage to break out onto more American screens in the future.

Together, Rudd and Bea make a fine team. Their chemistry truly enables viewers to feel like they’re watching a couple in the throes of a five-plus year failing marriage. It also helps take away from how absurd this show actually is. Though Elliot’s world is just like ours, the mythicality of the whole doppelganger shtick quickly wears away as Elliot and Clone Elliot briefly freak out before trying to come up with a system for sharing the same life. The show sets itself up for a ride of unknown proportions as Greenberg and directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris try to place Elliot and Clone Elliot in as many weird and awkward stints as possible. It’s a refreshing take on doppelganger-dom. Elliot’s interactions with Clone Elliot never feel redundant, and the hopefulness that both of them have for the future brightens the show whenever it gets as dark as it does.

“Living With Yourself” is more than your regular comedy about a man having to literally live with his mistake. Intertwined with its story about the consequences of Elliot’s mishap, the show tries its best to handle the themes of marriage and change through Elliot, Clone Elliot, and Kate’s relationships with each other. The idea of how much adulthood can change people hits home. Perfectionism is overwhelming and unrealistic. And then there’s the old cliché where the best solution comes through talking it out.

Tying everything together is the show’s title card itself. The intros to each episode become more and more chaotic and colorful in a reflection of the characters’ spiraling out of control. The Elliots and Kate work to their own ends, often in conflict with each other, creating a winding plot that is neither confusing nor stale, only vastly entertaining. Nothing is as black and white as it seems, and it gets harder to fully support any one character because of their increasing misdeeds and justifications for their wrongdoings.

Altogether, the show is a lot more complex than it seems. Its promotional trailer doesn’t do it justice. “Living With Yourself” is about a man and his clone who have to figure out how to navigate life together, just not in the way anyone would expect. In eight episodes, the series manages to dabble in all genres, from romance to drama to comedy, while giving a refreshing take on the “life turned upside down” and “doppelganger” tropes. Paul Rudd, Paul Rudd, and Aisling Bea successfully traverse these themes in a heartwarming tale that can easily be as happy-go-lucky as it is dark and existential.