The Netflix Highlight: “Living With Yourself,” Season 1
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.
History: In 2018, Barbra Streisand said she had her dog cloned. That cost roughly $50,000 ― the same amount it costs for cloning in “Living With Yourself.” For an MIT Technology Review article (republished by The Guardian), reporter Antonio Regalado tried to figure out if human cloning might be a reality of the near future. (For further context, scientists created the first animal clone, Dolly the Sheep, in 1996.) The piece had this passage:
I shot a question to Jose Cibelli, an animal cloning scientist at Michigan State University: is it time to worry about human cloning again?
Cibelli quickly emailed back: “Yes.”
Comparable shows: “Living With Yourself” has various similarities to fellow Netflix Original “Maniac.” Both use minimally Asian-inspired, neon-lit, futuristic yet janky medical treatments that have questionable success and ultimately malfunction. The show also has some similarity to “Mad Men,” in that quite a few scenes focus on Rudd’s character making a poetic advertising pitch that somehow works on the poetry alone, sans metrics. It also shares DNA with “Russian Doll,” as both have short episodes that focus on rich, youthful adults working through a sci-fi mystery about themselves in a comedic way.
The characters and money: The “Asian” spa manager eventually reveals that he’s faking his accent. The frustrated manager explains to Rudd’s character that “it’s easier if you rich assholes don’t think of us as people.” The costuming and set design of the show depicts the protagonists as having the clueless trappings of suburban wealth. Nice gray sweaters, Instagrammable tea kettles ― these people have fallen for the “yuppie” aesthetic marketed to them, but having all these things hasn’t made them happy.
Bonus: The show appears to have cut costs on its soundtrack and has an uncanny valley musical selection of songs that sound familiar but aren’t actually the songs they sound like. Notably, the show repeatedly uses a backing track that sounds like “Space Song” from the 2015 Beach House album “Depression Cherry.” In 2017, Pitchfork wrote an article about the use of ripoff songs, which included an example of Volkswagen creating a fake version of Beach House’s “Take Care” in 2012 for an advertisement. The backing songs in “Living With Yourself” don’t typically have vocals, so perhaps the sonic similarities are just an unfortunate coincidence. But given the large budgets of so many shows licensing actual songs these days, the choice to soundtrack the show in this way still feels cheap.
“Living With Yourself” Trailer:
A Couple Of Netflix News Stories From This Week
1. Culminating with a third-quarter earnings conversation this week, Netflix released enough viewership data over the last year for The New York Times to cull together lists of the most-viewed movies and shows on the service. Based on the company’s data, “Bird Box” and “Stranger Things” reached the top of the lists in their respective categories.
2. Related to that earnings release: The company had a statement aimed at calming investors over the fear that competition from Disney and Apple (and many other rising streaming platforms) could hurt the Netflix business model. “The launch of these new services will be noisy,” Netflix said. “There may be some modest headwind to our near-term growth.” The company predicted slower annual growth for the end of 2019.
And here are the shows and movies that joined Netflix this week:
- Jenny Slate: Stage Fright
- The Mule
- The Krominsky Method: Season Two
- Dolemite Is My Name
- Prank Encounters
- The Nut Job: Nutty By Nature
- Arsenio Hall: Smart & Classy