When the trailer for Netflix’s comedy series Living With Yourself dropped in mid-September, it appeared as if the streaming giant had another winner on its hands. It featured the first lead TV role for its charismatic, much-loved star Paul Rudd, fresh off capping the most successful movie franchise of all time. It had a high-concept premise involving Rudd playing dual versions of himself and seemed like it could be a darkly comic existential gem in the vein of Russian Doll or The End of the F***ing World. And it was slated to be an eight-episode, half-hour show, guaranteed not to overstay its welcome. What could go wrong?
Things certainly started off strong: Rudd did the talk-show circuit to promote the series, employing his everyman enthusiasm; the show earned what Metacritic terms as “generally favorable reviews”; and TV sites wrote the obligatory pieces about what might happen if the show gets a second season.
But since the show bowed on Oct. 18, online chatter about the show has all but disappeared. (The perfect example: a Buzzfeed quiz asking “Are You More Like Miles or His Clone?” has attracted a whopping three comments since it was posted a few weeks ago.)
No one’s saying the show is bad (well, almost no one). But in an era where we've grown accustomed to TV being exceptional, Living With Yourself suffers the ignominious fate of being just fine. Under the weight of so much other TV, what happens to shows that are just fine? Most are confined to sit in our Netflix queue, gathering dust next to Disenchantment, the 70 (!) episodes of The Ranch, and Altered Carbon.
So what went wrong with Living With Yourself? Why didn’t it scale the heights so many thought it would? We've got some ideas. (Warning for those who haven't yet watched the show or made it to the end of the season: spoilers ahead.)
It swinged big, then settled for singles. The premise of Living With Yourself is both bold and wacky. A man named Miles (Rudd) goes to a spa recommended by a coworker to try to rejuvenate his life, which is in a major rut. He’s unwittingly cloned and instead of being murdered to let a better version of himself take over, the Old Miles survives and now there are two of him trying to navigate his work and married life.
It’s a winning concept (especially with Rudd as the lead), but instead of turning into a wild exploration of identity and human agency, something like an amped-up Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (or something dark like Dead Ringers, or even just funny like Multiplicity), Living With Youself takes a more subdued approach. The stakes are a work presentation at an advertising agency, an unwritten stage play, and a mostly passionless marriage to Kate (Aisling Bea) in which fertility treatments have been a point of contention.
Making matters worse, the show doubles back to repeat storylines and scenes from multiple characters’ points of view. While this conceit might have been an effective way of revealing more insights about Miles' psyche or illuminating hidden plot twists, it instead makes Living With Yourself feel housebound and repetitive. There’s a point where New Miles is offered the chance to take a stack of money and create a new identity somewhere else. He declines, in what ends up being great metaphor for the show as a whole: it refuses to open up its world, keeping its focus on the boring, white-male problems of its protagonist.
Ad agencies and suburbs are boring. Speaking of white-male problems, a note to TV producers: we've had enough of characters who work at an ad agency and the big, revelatory pitch they have to put together for the super-crusty old guy who runs a giant infrastructure company. And if your ad agency character lives in the suburbs (and his name isn't Don Draper), that’s an even harder sell.
It doesn’t explore some of its most interesting nooks and crannies. When New Miles returns to the spa / cloning center to try to fix the problem the cloning has created, he encounters Jung-Ho (James Seol), one of the cloners. There are allusions to a larger company that is running the operation globally, and there is much bickering between Jung-Ho and his business partner (Rob Yang). It’s tantalizing to consider what an entire episode set at the cloning clinic would be like, revealing what motivated these guys to skip past the ethical issues and get into this business.
This is just one example of the show setting up characters without taking them to their logical conclusion. Another is the FDA officers investigating the cloning business (played by Bridget Everett and Bobby Moren). Maybe that’s a different show altogether, and perhaps the whole FDA plotline should have been nixed entirely, but as is, it's not clear why they're there.
That icky Tom Brady moment. As many who saw the show were quick to point out, it seemed like the New England Patriots QB's cameo, which featured Brady coming out of the clinic, was a commentary on Patriots' owner Robert Kraft (who was arrested earlier this year in a real-life strip mall spa for soliciting a prostitite). Brady took the response in stride (what else could he do?), but the easily excised moment ended up being an icky distraction in the show’s first episode.
That ending. In case you didn’t make it all the way to Episode 8, the finale involves the two Miles plotting to end each other. But after they destroy an entire apartment in hand-to-hand combat, they have a moment of catharsis realizing that they actually love each other (and, uh, themselves?) and don’t want to self-harm. That’s immediately followed by Kate entering the scene, revealing that she's pregnant, and that she’s not sure whether Old Miles or New Miles is the father. They hug it out and the season ends on a positive note... at least until we see the look of worry on Kate’s face as she contemplates how this is all going to work out.
It’s a pat and anti-climatic close for a show that began with so much manic energy and potential for deep explorations of what it means to be a person and how to forgive the worst version of yourself. A baby is where all this leads? Really?
Some point earlier, Kate realizes she can’t be with New Miles because they’re simply out of sync. He’s new and improved DNA, but she’s not, and she’s still better matched with Old Miles. This seemed like the perfect avenue for a plot turn that's both simple and complicated at the same time: why not clone a New Kate for New Miles? Why couldn’t that have been what was in the gigantic crate instead of a butchered pig?
Not only would it have introduced a new dynamic to lead into Season 2, but it would have given Aisling Bea the same kind of split-screen acting challenge that Rudd got to tackle. And maybe that pig would have gone on to have a full, happy life on a farm somewhere.
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Omar L. Gallaga is a longtime technology and culture writer with bylines in The Wall Street Journal, NPR's All Tech Considered blog, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, CNN and the beloved TV websites Television Without Pity and Previously.tv. He's a former newspaper journalist who now lives in New Braunfels, Texas. You can find him on Twitter @OmarG.