Now’s the perfect time for an existential comedy, and Upload is one hell of a good one.
Sad that The Good Place ended, and looking for another satirical look at the afterlife? Good news! Amazon Prime recently released Upload, a show about having your mind digitized after death and uploaded to the best afterlife your bank account can afford.
While Upload works as a satirical comedy, there’s a lot more going on under the hood. There’s a charming romance at its center, a decent – though slow-walked – mystery element, and some emotionally moving character growth. Let’s dive in.
In the near future, Americans can upload their consciousness into corporate afterlife simulators just before death. Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) an indie app developer, gets into a fatal car accident before he can roll out his new, competing afterlife. Forced to upload into a ritzy resort afterlife program by his debutante girlfriend, he struggles to fit in…until he meets Nora (Andy Allo,) his “angel”.
Nora is a wage-slave tech support operator tasked with keeping the fussy rich clients happy as their guardian “angel.” As she works with Nathan, the two find surprisingly kindred spirits in each other.
Episode 1: Welcome to Upload.
Nathan and his partner are prepping to launch a free app that will provide a DIY afterlife for lower income people. Before he can go to market, his self-driving car slams into an illegally parked garbage truck, fatally wounding him. Under compulsion from his girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) he barely qualifies for being uploaded moments from death.
The first episode is the longest (45 minutes compared to just around half an hour for the rest) and it uses its time wisely. We meet all of the main characters as well as many side characters whose story weave into and out of the plot at later junctures.
Upload has the audacity to show us most of our characters at their worst: Nathan is a cocksure silicon valley type; Nora hides her personality behind a cocoon of fatalism; Ingrid is every socialite vice rolled into one. Fortunately, like The Good Place, seeing our characters in their worst light early invests you in their growth – mostly because the acting is rock solid and the dialogue is great.
While there is a lot to see and many bricks to lay – the intrigue of corporate espionage, the obvious romantic chemistry between Nathan and Nora versus the obvious dysfunction between Nathan and Ingrid, and the not-so-subtle social satire/commentary on American capitalism. Overall, it works nicely and paces itself very well.
Episode 2: Five Stars.
Nora works tirelessly to get her ailing father a spot on the Upload afterlife, despite his protests. Belittled by bosses, harried by co-workers and pestered by clients, she has almost no time for herself. When her request for her father is denied due to poor ratings, Nathan figures out a way to rig the system in her favor.
Nathan had his episode, Five Stars is definitely Nora’s. That being said, both episodes do a good job passing the baton now and again to keep everyone’s plates spinning.
Andy Allo makes Nora such a relentlessly engaging character. There’s tons of depth to her, and she plays very well off of the supporting cast such as Chris Williams who plays her father, Zainab Johnson who plays her cubicle mate, and several of her other afterlife clients. She and Robbie Amell also share a good rapport that makes the rom-com moments disarmingly effective.
Episode 3: The Funeral.
Nathan prepares to be a participant at his own funeral, but finds himself shut out by all of Ingrid’s planning.
This episode didn’t do much for me. While several characters get to reappear and shine (Keving Bigley’s Luke is the obvious comic relief and Chloe Coleman’s Nevaeh the sweet light of reason) it falters by being the Ingrid centric episode.
That’s not because Ingrid is inherently all bad…she’s just mostly all bad, and she’s not given any real nuance till later in the series to make her rough edges tolerable. We do get some more world-building about the murder (from Nathan’s weird aunt who falls flat as a comedic character) so there’s just enough to make me want to skip this episode and hurry on to the next.
Binge or Purge?: Upload.
It’s tempting to make too many comparisons describing the gist of Upload. While there is a bunch of social satire in the vein of Idiocracy (Panera Breads now owns Facebook and Nokia has partnered with Taco Bell) it’s not a laugh riot. It has some deeper elements on life, death, and society, but it’s not the inspired whimsy of The Good Place. It alludes several times to funny rom-coms like 50 First Dates, but the romance is again not used to make jokes.
Upload ends up being its own show, mostly for good. There are some stumbles such as Ingrid being underwritten for most of the season, Luke being overwritten, and the satire being a touch too unsubtle. Instead of mocking the failings of our current system to death, like Mike Judge, it feels like Upload is thinly hiding real simmering grievance. That’s not bad. Just different.
My vote was a foregone decision: I mainlined the entire first season in one go. What Upload does well – multi-faceted leads, a great concept, tight pacing, cool visuals and engaging world-building – grabbed me and rarely let me go.