What’s up: Netflix’s “Living With Yourself” is a sci-fi comedy in which Paul Rudd plays a suburban husband in a struggling marriage who is stuck at an advertising job he hates. In a moment of desperation, he decides to clean out his joint special savings fund to spend $50,000 at the mysterious Top Happy Spa. This spa promises a genetic rejuvenation that will get him out of his rut.
The show quickly reveals that the spa actually just clones the clients and kills off the original person.
This season begins with a shot of trees in a forest before the focus descends to a shallow grave. A hand wrapped in plastic punches through the ground. A plastic-wrapped body emerges as muffled screams of frustration break through. Plastic clings to the man’s face, distorting its features until a free hand rips it off. And it’s Paul Rudd! (Or at least, Paul Rudd playing a character.)
The man is almost entirely naked, save for a diaper. He screams into the forest and the show cuts to a title sequence that hovers on the word “Living” in all caps before cycling through the rest of the title.
The main cast includes Aisling Bea and Rudd.
The first season of “Living With Yourself” runs eight episodes of roughly 30 minutes each.
Sum-up: The show fits well into this emerging streaming genre of sci-fi comedy (think “Russian Doll” and “Maniac” on Netflix alone). Rudd’s acting ability carries the kooky decision to have him play the protagonist and that protagonist’s clone. The strong comedic writing often carries the simple, inexpensive settings in which the limited action takes place. The writers sprinkle in subtle jokes throughout, like the dark decision to repeatedly frame “success” as getting a party at “Fridays” (the show erases the “TGI,” but it’s clear that it’s the same restaurant). Occasionally, there are wonderful, truly inspired moments of comedic surprise such as a cameo at the cloning spa by a popular football player whose known robotic nature fits well with the implications of the spa’s procedure.
The show ultimately becomes a meditation on depression and losing a lust for life. The cloning and the utilization of a clone to complete tasks becomes a life lesson in gaining self-satisfaction from hard work. At one point, a Rudd character says, “I don’t get it, why can’t I be happy for once?” The response: “Because you didn’t earn it.” But in these moments, the show always makes sure to veer back to the comedy to couple with the darkness.
Heads up: The seeming shoestring budget of this show holds it back from greatness, even if it gets quite close. Way too many scenes involve just two characters (often both played by Rudd) talking about interesting things they’ll do or not do. “Living With Yourself” will show the story from one of Rudd’s perspectives and then switch to the other Rudd’s perspective in the next episode, making it far too repetitive. It’s easy to get sick of watching Rudd essentially talk to himself in tan, uninteresting suburban rooms in scene after scene. The first episode does a great job of injecting surprises into the narrative and making it seem like the show has room to grow and can head down any magical rabbit hole. These fun moments don’t happen as much as the show goes on, though.
Close-up: At one point early in the series, Rudd’s character has an anti-eureka moment in which punching a broken lightbulb above his head (rather than the cliche of a lightbulb turning on) leads him to the decision to try Top Happy Spa.
In this scene, Rudd’s character attempts to change a lightbulb in his suburban kitchen, which seems to illustrate a “new generic” type of yuppie affluence. The kitchen has a globe light chandelier, a good-looking mixer and other appliances that match it ― a considered, but not more considered than what’s available at Target, look that seems so prevalent today. Since the show spends a considerable amount of time wading into the suburban unhappiness of this couple and the regret they feel for moving to this home, these choices appear intentional, and Rudd literally punching part of the home serves as a perfect eureka (or anti-eureka) moment for the character.
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