Paul Rudd is the neighbour’s dog that boisterously comes to greet you when you collect the morning paper. Paul Rudd is the unpretentious black coffee that hits the spot on a cold day. Paul Rudd is just a comforting presence on the screen.
A humble actor, Rudd has no apparent desire to start pursuing serious roles, which is part of his charm. New Netflix show, Living With Yourself, is firmly within his wheelhouse – a gentle comedy that accentuates its Paul Rudd-ness by having him in both of the lead roles.
The actor plays (at first) Miles Elliot, a bored advertising executive stuck in a tired, joyless marriage. Desperate for change, he takes a colleague’s tip on a mysterious but supposedly transcendental spa massage. The strip mall parlour turns out to be a makeshift cloning facility however, where your old body can be traded in for a brand-spanking-new one – identical in appearance and psyche, but un-jaded by 40-odd years of boring suburban life. But here’s the twist: Miles’ original body isn’t properly disposed of by the back alley scientists, so the world now has two identical Miles Elliots.
Now that the VFX is up to scratch, there’s been a spate of CGI-aided doppelgängers in film and TV recently. For example, during HBO’s The Deuce, James Franco plays identical twins. Living With Yourself takes things to another level, however, with two Paul Rudds in almost every scene. This could have been a disaster, but Rudd does a remarkable job and he didn’t even use a stand-in double.
“I would act to just where I knew I would be,” he told the Radio Times. “There was nobody there. But when I’d say my line, somebody off-screen would be hitting an iPad cue and I would get it in my ear[piece].”
The cloning premise brings to mind the work of Charlies Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and Brooker (Black Mirror), but LWY isn’t anywhere near as dark. There was probably an interesting series about identity and consciousness to be made here, but this isn’t it, the show playing for laughs as Original Miles exploits New Miles’ vigour in order to get back in his wife’s good graces. That’s fine, and LWY is a perfectly serviceable comedy, but it just doesn’t hold interest as well as something like Russian Doll, its Netflix metaphysical peer.
The way LWY tells the story from both of the Miles’ perspectives, often re-treading events from a different doppelgänger’s point of view, is smart, and makes you empathise with both of their situations. You end up feeling that there really is no ‘fake’ Miles. Paul Rudd is as affable and accessible as ever, though isn’t given many opportunities for his trademark surrealist improv.
For the most part, Rudd carries the show, which I ploughed through the first five episodes of quite happily, but he doesn’t have the strongest script to work with and you wish there were more actual laughs rather than just hints at ones. Aisling Bea feels miscast as Miles’ wife Kate, and weirdly Rudd has better chemistry with himself than he does with her. LWY also has no visual style whatsoever, which – okay, it’s a comedy – but it still feels like a missed opportunity given the sci-fi aspect of the series.
Living With Yourself is by no means a failure, but it’s no The Good Place, which is more successful in taking a bleak premise and playing it for feel-good comedy. It throws Paul Rudds at the wall, but nothing quite sticks and ultimately, it still feels lacking.
‘Living With Yourself’ is streaming on Netflix now