TV reviews

Upload (Season 1) – Review

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

In the year 2033, it appears that you can’t even escape the latter when you’re in the afterlife. Welcome to the world of Upload, the new Amazon Prime Video series from the man behind Parks and Recreation and the US adaptation of The Office, Greg Daniels.

Set in a near-future America, where cars drive themselves, and dying isn’t the full stop it used to be, thanks to a new digital life extension process where your consciousness is uploaded to a virtual environment of your choosing at the point of your expiry. The only thing is, this comes at a cost, and the quality of your après-vie experience depends upon how solvent you were on this mortal coil. In-app purchases help to enhance things, and you have a dedicated customer service staff on call, known as ‘Angels’.

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Enter – or, rather, exit – Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), a computer programmer killed after a road traffic accident involving one of said self-piloted vehicles. His controlling girlfriend, Ingrid Kannerman (Allegra Edwards), manages to persuade him on his deathbed to let her upload him to the same place as her late grandmother – Lakeview – which is run by a company called Horizen (the name appears to be a play on American mobile telecoms company Verizon, along with the notion of a ‘zen’ state of being).

The main snag for Nathan is that as Ingrid is paying for his cyberspace interment, she has the ultimate say over what he can and can’t purchase to make his pixelated eternity a little more bearable. In trying to cope with his new ‘life’, he forms a bond with his dedicated ‘Angel’, Nora Antony (Andy Allo), which quickly starts to turn into more than a regular professional-client relationship. Now he’s dead, can Nathan finally break things off with Ingrid? And will she just switch him off in retaliation?

Just as Nathan’s trying to come to grips with his whole new (after)life, it seems that his untimely passing may not have quite been the genuine accident it appeared to be. While all of this is going on, Nora is trying to persuade her terminally ill father (Chris Williams) to be uploaded, in order that they can eventually be together; however, as his wife had passed away years earlier and wasn’t uploaded, he can’t consider an eternity without her, and wants to be allowed to just expire naturally, on his own terms.

Greg Daniels is perhaps best known for workplace comedies, and Upload could be considered as being one of those, the workplace in this instance being the offices of Horizen. The trademark ‘mockumentary’ style isn’t employed here, and it is instead shot in a more conventional way, which manages to set Upload apart from Daniels’ other work. However, it’s more than just another comedy, as it manages to straddle a number of different genres and styles – it’s part-mystery, part-satire, part-romcom, and part-science fiction.

The satire is perhaps a little hamfisted at times, and uses a sledgehammer approach where a little more subtlety would have worked better. Yes, there’s definitely great play to be made of having freeware or cheaper versions of the digital netherworld being sponsored by businesses like Facebook, Amazon, and so forth; however, there should perhaps be a little more finesse when you’re choosing your weapons to take out a target. In one scene, they literally call capitalism out by name, as if we aren’t clever enough to work out the show’s stance by ourselves.

There’s also a blatant dig at the late right-wing billionaire David Koch, by having an obnoxious tycoon called – wait for it – David Choak (William B. Davis, from The X-Files). However, other aspects are more successful, like there being an app where people are matched up for casual sex and rate each other afterwards with a score out of five stars, taking a wry look at online hookup culture. It’s also genuinely rather moving to see the ‘bargain basement’ afterlife, where those without financial means for extras are left to wander about like lonely wraiths, in a drab, constrained existence, forever low on precious data and treated as second-class.

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Upload isn’t the first series to tackle the afterlife recently: Black Mirror did post-life digital extension in episodes like ‘Be Right Back’ and ‘San Junipero’ (as well as taking a look at memory and experience recording in ‘The Entire History Of You’). As for addressing the nature of Heaven and what comes after, look no further than The Good Place, which was devised by Daniels’ Parks and Recreation co-creator, Michael Schur. Clearly, the Great Beyond is fertile ground for exploration of late, but Daniels’ entry is worthy of note, even if a little late to the table.

A show often lives or dies on the strength of its leads, and Upload is rather gifted in terms of its casting. Amell is no stranger to the fantastical (having appeared in The Flash, and the 2013 US reboot of 1970s ITV children’s series The Tomorrow People), and brings a similar kind of ‘innocent abroad’ charm to Nathan. He also has a great chemistry in his interaction with Allo’s Nora, and you can’t help but root for them to get together. Edwards as Ingrid is a wonderful, vainglorious grotesque, and she demonstrates some of the worst excesses of modern society.

Upload is humorous, while not actually being laugh-out-loud funny; however, it doesn’t necessarily need to be, as that might jar with the overall tone it’s seemingly trying to establish. It’s also warm, touching, and thought-provoking over the course of its ten-episode run. Heaven might not necessarily be a place on Earth, but a little slice of it can be found on Amazon Prime Video right now.

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