Television

Living With Yourself Is a Netflix Series Only Paul Rudd Could Pull Off

The new comedy pits Paul Rudd against Paul Rudd. Paul Rudd wins.

Clean-shaven Paul Rudd listens to a messier Paul Rudd while they both sit in a car in this still from Living With Yourself.
Paul Rudd and Paul Rudd in Living With Yourself.
Netflix

It took bleeding-edge technology and millions of dollars for Will Smith to meet a younger, fresher version of himself in Gemini Man. For Paul Rudd, all it takes is a shave and a haircut. In Living With Yourself, whose eight-episode first season debuts Friday on Netflix, Rudd plays Miles, a schlubby copywriter who feels stuck in his comfortable but unexciting life. And he also plays Miles, the rejuvenated version of himself, who emerges from a nondescript strip-mall spa after a mysterious treatment that promises to give him a whole new lease on life. New Miles, as the show calls him, returns to his house, cooks his wife a delicious dinner, then heads to work and promptly crushes a Jerry Maguire–style pitch for a telecom company. Old Miles fares less well. He wakes up in a shallow grave.

The spa’s black-box process turns out to be a form of cloning that replicates both the subject’s body and mind, right down to the most elusive memory, but with minor improvements along the way. New Miles can’t bend steel or walk through walls; he just dresses a little better, holds his head a little higher, tells the old Miles’ stories with a little more panache. You can go back for further treatments—a celebrity whom old Miles sees on his way in one day says he’s been through it six times—but one round seems like the equivalent of a successful cleanse, only on the cellular level.

That still leaves the question of what to do with the original, unimproved Miles, but the spa’s owners have a simple solution: Kill him. Unfortunately—or not, if you prefer your Rudd with a three-day beard and a little bit of a gut—they botch the job, and old Miles claws his way back to life to discover that there are now two of him, and he’s the one who looks ready for the scrap heap.

Living With Yourself, which was created and written by longtime Daily Show producer Timothy Greenberg (all eight episodes are directed by Little Miss Sunshine’s Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), wasn’t written for Rudd, but it’s hard to think of an actor better suited for the role. Rudd turned 50 earlier this year, but his agelessness has become a running joke. (The online quiz requiring you to pick the older of two Rudds remains devilishly hard, even when the photos were taken more than a decade apart.) The two versions of Miles aren’t different ages, exactly, although one’s time on earth is measured in years and the other’s in hours. But it’s important that neither new nor old Miles looks like the deck has been stacked against him. Old Miles isn’t a miserabilist caricature, and new Miles isn’t a self-hating parody.

If new Miles turned up at work, you might wonder if he’d lost a few pounds, or maybe gotten a new haircut—the kinds of explanations you jump to when you know something’s different but you can’t figure out what it is. Rudd is physically capable of embodying both, but he’s also a supple enough actor to differentiate without turning them into different people. Each Miles’ first instinct is to disprove the other’s legitimacy: He’s the real one, so the other must be fake. But every challenge one poses the other (What happened when you were 7? Who was the first girl you kissed?) is answered, and even their lapses in memory are identical. Their instinct is to treat the other as an enemy, but who can hate Paul Rudd?

The scenes where the two Mileses converse are wonders, not for their technical wizardry (the show deploys a few digital effects, but for the most part the techniques involved have been around since the original 1961 The Parent Trap), but for the way Rudd interacts with his literal self. There’s real rapport between old and new Miles, who interrupt and redirect each other as if they’ve co-existed forever. That puts pressure on Miles’ relationship with his (their?) wife (Aisling Bea), since old Miles feels outclassed by his trimmer, more thoughtful self and new Miles feels like he’s in a long-term relationship with someone he’s never met.

Although Bea has to play baffled a lot, the show doesn’t blame her for Miles’ dissatisfactions, and if you watch enough of the series, you’ll find that its shifting point of view—which often entails rewinding the timeline and following a different character—eventually gets around to seeing through her eyes as well.

Living With Yourself is a slight, not entirely coherent series. After watching all four hours, I’m not sure what to take away from the experience. There are complications introduced and then dispensed with for no reason beyond keeping the binge-watch going. But there are lovely moments, too, and sharp observations about marriage, especially about how the traits in a partner that drive you nuts become inextricable from your love for them—how part of what binds you together is the common struggle of putting up with one another. You can’t just keep the good and discard the bad; you have to live with both.