| November 01, 2019 03:40 PM
As consumers of stories, people have always been fascinated by doppelgängers. Think The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or the motif of the “evil twin.”
One of the highest-grossing movies of 2019, Us, tells the eerie tale of a family and its ghoulish counterpart. Director Jordan Peele said the film was inspired in part by an episode of the Twilight Zone in which a woman comes face-to-face with a darker version of herself.
But the doppelgänger, or the “double” as it is sometimes referred to in literary criticism, isn’t always evil. In Netflix’s new show Living With Yourself, it might be the better of the two twins.
Living With Yourself is a black comedy. It won’t elicit any belly laughs, but it might inspire a wry smile or two, and it will get you thinking about what it really means to be human.
The show begins when the supremely average Miles (Paul Rudd) shows up to work, discovering that a coworker who was once equally schlubby is now a suave and successful worker. What brought about the change? Miles’ coworker hands him the card for an absurdly expensive spa, adding, “I get a 10% referral fee. Plus, to be honest with you, I’m not exactly worried about the competition.”
Desperate for a change, Miles gives the spa a try, emptying the savings account he and his wife had been filling in hopes of having a baby. Convinced that whatever happens inside this spa will be worth it, Miles goes in. (In an amusing moment, he spots Tom Brady leaving the spa.)
The macabre procedure is supposed to work like this: The non-FDA-approved practitioners take the patient’s DNA and put it into a new body with all the memories but none of the baggage of the past. The old body is dead and buried, and the new body returns to life, entirely unaware of the whole procedure.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. We wouldn’t have the show without some conflict, and it arises when the original Miles claws his way out of a grave, hastening back to his home only to meet his double, who has already assumed his life.
What follows is a strange, dark, and mind-bending conflict between the man who wants change without effort, and his double, who wants to continue a life that he thinks he’s already lived.
Even beyond his ill-fated trip to Top Happy Spa, it’s clear that the original Miles doesn’t care to really improve himself. When he sends the double to work so he can be more successful at his job, old Miles languishes on the couch, drinking beer and watching porn. He may say that he wants to succeed at work or be more loving to his wife, Kate. But he doesn’t put in the effort.
The double, on the other hand, takes nothing for granted. He cooks for Kate, engages with her friends at parties, and asks to join her on runs. “I loved your life,” the double tells the original Miles in the final episode.
“I loved it, too,” Miles replies. But until he finally had to fight for his life, he didn’t realize it. Improving your life isn’t as simple as getting an iPhone upgrade, and there’s no way to ease your way out of hard work.
The show turns the classic evil twin trope on its head by presenting the “good twin,” or the “you” that’s “you,” but better. But, as Living With Yourself reminds viewers, the clone is not the same as the original.
The plot plays out like an extended exploration of the Black Mirror episode in which a woman recreates her dead boyfriend through artificial intelligence. The doppelgänger may have all the features of the original, but it will never be the same, no matter what technology gets involved.
After Kate has a brief affair with Miles 2.0, she apologizes to the original Miles. “You are my husband, Miles,” she says. “Not him.”
Most viewers have enjoyed Living with Yourself, and since the show includes not one, but two Paul Rudds, it’s not hard to see why. But the show might continue to surprise viewers past the first episode, not just for its quirky setup, but for the thoughtful ways it teaches us about ourselves.