Upload

Upload

2020 - United States

Review by Jennifer AJ

From Greg Daniels, the man behind Parks and Recreations and the US version of The Office, comes a comedy series about the intersection between technology and humanity. With its blend of science fiction, existentialism, and Daniels’ irreverent humour, The Amazon Prime comedy is like a cross between The Good Place and Black Mirror (if the latter were comical).  

Upload

Upload revolves around Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), a tech bro who dies in a freak accident involving his self-driving car. His wealthy girlfriend Ingrid Kannerman (Allegra Edwards) then uploads his consciousness into a digital afterlife called Lakeview, a virtual world modelled after a posh country club. 

Upload

As Nathan adjusts to his new reality, he soon realizes that every aspect of his life is now being controlled by the domineering Ingrid. Lost and bereft, Nathan strikes a friendship with his personal assistant in the real world, Nora Anthony (Andy Allo). The two begin to realize something is amiss with Nathan’s missing memories and eventually come to suspect the nature of his death. 

Upload

At its heart, the show is like two really great ideas struggling to coalesce together. 

There’s the sci-fi aspect, with its presentation of a near-distant future where humans can essentially live forever in a virtual realm of their choosing. By the way, the idea is something that was explored – albeit in a much more sombre tone – in Black Mirror’s award-winning “San Junipero” episode. 

Being a comedy, the concept is naturally treated with more levity, though with no less weighty pondering about the moral and social consequences of such technology. The digital haven enables people to keep communicating with their loved ones, but what happens when they stay the same age and mentality forever while the living grow up?

Upload

The show also includes some sharp commentaries about modern consumerism. Even in death, people are able to live large, enjoying many different tiers of amenities and items – provided their uploaders in the real world keep paying, in-app purchase style. Funerals can be held via live streaming with the deceased attending from their digital afterlife, sponsored by big brands no less. There are also a wide variety of devices that can help bridge the physical barriers between the living and the “dead”. Despite its fantastical conceit, it’s easy to see how plausible these scenarios really are. 

The second aspect of the show concerns the human existentialism of it all. The show captures our society’s obsession with immortality. It poses a very of-the-moment question: When anti-ageing is no longer enough, what would humans do to preserve their existence? Although not as sharp as The Good Place, Daniels’ acute observation sneaks in some relevant commentaries about the purpose of living. Unfortunately, some of these lofty ideas are often obscured for the sake of humour and a rather banal murder mystery. (By the way, why do modern shows constantly feel the need to insert a murder mystery? It happens in every genre, often with clunky writing that detracts from the main conflict). 

Coming from a seasoned comedy writer, the show is chock full of a quirky cast of characters, especially the side ones. This does well to highlight the peculiarity of Nathan’s situation. For example, in Lakeview he meets Ingrid’s deceased grandmother, an attractive young woman about his age when she died. The hilarity comes from these types of scenarios. 

Upload

Nathan and Nora’s connection is undeniably the centrepiece of the show. They bond through their shared sense of loss: him for the potentials he’d never live up to, her for being stuck in a dispiriting job assisting fussy afterlife clients. Their dynamic gives the show its most sentimental angle. 

Its futuristic aspect requires thorough worldbuilding, and in true comedic form, Daniels chose to lean on exaggeration. The high-end devices look like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit and the show clearly prioritizes ridiculousness rather than believability. 

Upload offers a fantastical reimagining of our immediate future, with some occasional depth amid the rather uneven writing. It’s just not as savvy as it could be, such a pity given its intriguing premise. At least, you can still download a bit of fun from the good parts.

Published on October 13th, 2023. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

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