This UPLOAD review contains no spoilers and is based on all 10 episodes.
Greg Daniels, co-creator of NBC’s The Office and Parks and Recreation, is releasing one of the most anticipated new comedy series of 2020. That show is Netflix’s Space Force, his reunion with Office star Steve Carrell. His other new comedy series, Upload, hits Amazon Prime this Friday. With less anticipation comes less pressure and more of a chance to surprise, but Upload is going to have a hard time surprising anyone with a premise that’s been played out recently.
Telling a sci-fi heavy story that focuses on the recently deceased uploading themselves into a corporately owned digital afterlife, Upload immediately recalls Black Mirror’s “San Junipero.” It also shares similarities to The Good Place, from Daniels’ Parks collaborator Mike Schur. Oh, and it’s eerily similar to the premise of fellow Amazon Prime Original Series Forever. The point is, we’ve spent a lot of the time pondering the afterlife on television lately, and it’s inevitable that Upload is compared to these projects, projects that it simply can’t measure up against.
That’s unfortunate, because Daniels did such a fantastic job with Upload’s world building. Set in the year 2033, Upload is full of futuristic flourishes that are clever, realistic, and a little terrifying. Among the self-driving cars and completely automated supermarkets is the technology to upload consciousness at the time of death to a digital community, owned by earthbound businesses with profit goals to hit. Your digital avatar will enjoy the amenities of whatever afterlife you’re fortunate enough to afford, but you’ll be constantly bombarded by the worst aspects our current internet landscape: in-app purchases, annoying ads, and intrusive pop-ups.
The details are well-thought out and create a scathing indictment of capitalism and corporate greed. It’s just a shame that the story and characters don’t match the ambition of the world-building and themes. The series centers on vain app developer Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) who is unexpectedly killed when his self-driving car mysteriously malfunctions and crashes. Nathan doesn’t have an afterlife plan for himself, so before he flatlines, his rich, shallow girlfriend Ingrid (Briarpatch’s Allega Edwards), has him uploaded to her family’s lush afterlife of choice, Lakeview by Horizon. Once uploaded, Nathan is introduced to his strange new forever by his personal customer service “angel,” Nora (Andy Allo).
Though there’s a murder mystery happening in the background, it’s a shame that Upload is focused on the relationship between Nathan and Nora. The problem is that Nathan is such a non-entity of a character. He has no other personality traits other than being handsome and mildly bewildered by his new predicament. Nora is a bit more interesting, but it’s unclear exactly what she sees in Nathan, and their total lack of chemistry is a spot on Allo’s otherwise excellent performance. A will-they-or-won’t-they story that’s complicated by physical limitations could have pulled on inventive stories like Her for inspiration, but this certainly isn’t the new techno-Jim and Pam.
Edwards makes the most of one-note Ingrid, but the series could do more to explore the new power dynamic that exists between her and her trapped digital boyfriend Nathan. The rest of the supporting cast, like the fellow Lakeview uploads and customer service angels, make little to no impression until the halfway point in the series, then still aren’t very memorable. You would think that Daniels knows by now that a winning, scene-stealing ensemble is the key to comedic success. It doesn’t matter if you have a rock-solid premise when your lead is a snooze and your supporting characters can’t pick up the slack.
That all being said, sci-fi fans might genuinely get a kick out of Daniels’ vision of 2033 and the afterlife. The series also scores unexpected laughs with shocking body-horror humor and a nightmarish future-look at the Dark Web. All in all, Upload isn’t without its merits, but you can glean most of what it has to offer from the pilot. For those that stick through the entire 10-episode season, you’ll likely be wishing there was an option for an in-app upgrade to unlock a more compelling lead and central mystery.