When you’re the genius mastermind behind some of television’s biggest and best comedies, what do you do when your latest show comes to a close? You write another, that’s what!
Greg Daniels – the creator of The Office US, Parks and Recreation, King of the Hill, and writer for Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and an episode of Seinfeld – is back, pen in hand, presenting Upload, the latest original release for Amazon Prime. With the world currently in quarantine we’re streaming more than ever before, so this is prime time (get it) for a new show to binge – but how does it hold up?
Upload opens on Nora (Andy Allo) as she makes her way to work. It looks like she’s sitting on a standard, packed subway train, until the woman next to her pulls out her hand and swipes up, a video materialising between her thumb and forefinger. We’re no longer in socially distanced 2020, that’s for sure; we’re somewhere in the near future, where technology is more a part of our lives than ever before…even in death. You see, Nora works for Horizen, a company that allows people to upload themselves into a digital afterlife, pre- heart failure. Nora is an ‘Angel’, a customer service rep watching out for the uploads, helping them adjust to their new way of ‘living’.
Cue Nathan (Robbie Amell). We’re introduced to him as he cruises up the freeway in his self-driving car, playing video games and flirting with a projection of a police officer when he’s pulled over. He’s self-confident, smarmy, the perfect arrogant lead we hope will learn some lessons over the next 10 episodes. Of course, every arrogant lead needs an equal, and Nathan’s comes in the form of Ingrid (Allegra Edwards), his girlfriend. She’s tall, slim, blonde, the full catwalk model package. She’s also shallow, domineering, and pumped full of her family’s cash. So, when Nathan finds himself the victim of a self-driving car accident, laying on a hospital bed, Ingrid decides it would be best to upload him…that way, they can be together forever.
Thanks to Ingrid’s bank account, once uploaded Nathan lands in Horizen’s Lakeview (think of this as the equivalent of the posh neighbourhood your Sims characters could live in). Personalised adjustable weather; a mini bar in your room that you can swipe through to find Burger King; a subservient A.I. butler (Owen Daniels) you can programme to your own specific requirements – Lakeview has everything you could need in the virtual afterlife.
Wandering around the hotel, Nathan’s introduced to various members of staff and other uploads, like Luke (Kevin Bigley), soon to become Nathan’s self-proclaimed best friend, and Dylan (Rhys Slack), a young adult trapped in his child-body after falling into the Grand Canyon. There’s also Aleesha (Zainab Johnson), Luke’s sassy, no-messing Angel and Nora’s co-worker, bringing the laughs and one-liners.
As Nathan struggles to adjust to his new home, Nora scrolls through his memories to get a sense of who she’s dealing with. A nice enough guy, experienced a terrible accident, worked at…where? Thanks to her investigation, Nora discovers that large parts of Nathan’s memory is missing, which comes as a relief to him as he struggles to remember who he is/was. But who would have access to those files and why would they want to delete certain memories over others? Where did Nathan work, what was he up to, pre-upload? And why have they tampered with his memories of the night he was supposed to have died?
Set in a future full of holograms, 3D printed food and automated supermarkets, Upload doesn’t feel too distant to our present day. Daniels himself has said that while he was dreaming up the show, certain technologies he’d thought of as ‘far out’ came true, making the idea of uploading yourself into the next realm feel not so strange.
Nora, Nathan, Luke and Aleesha all feel like characters we’ve met before; Nathan as the cocky leading man, Nora his wise guide through life, Aleesha the beautiful best friend. And with that, Upload‘s story arch feels like one we’ve seen before; main character lands in new world, unsure at first but settles in, only to find out that something odd is going on behind the scenes. My first thoughts after finishing the pilot episode: Upload is what happens if The Good Place and Blade Runner 2049 had a baby. By mixing together sci-fi, a little romance, and a twisty-turny plot, it does feel like we’ve watched similar stories previously.
Granted, Upload carries the calibre of Daniels’ name, but without the starry cast. Parks and Recreation had Amy Poehler, The Office US had Steve Carell. And maybe that’s where Upload doesn’t hold up. As a new streaming-only release it should draw audiences in but with a lack of established names and a narrative we’ve already watched, I don’t know how long viewers will stay for.
My recommendation? Stick around for the quirky inventions and to watch Johnson and Bigley butt heads. It’s a sweet enough series, it’s just a shame to repeat what’s already been.