UPLOAD is a new breed of afterlife comedy
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
The Greg Daniels (Parks and Rec, The Office) Amazon Original series is a refreshing dissection of capitalism and corruption that fits right into the rising niche of afterlife comedies. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Imagine a future where you could transplant your consciousness into a utopian digital afterlife with the eternal ability to communicate with your living friends and family. That’s the 2030 prediction made in Upload, the newest sitcom from Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Rec). All ten episodes premiered on Amazon Prime Video on May 1, 2020. Upload is a refreshing dissection of capitalism and corruption that fits right into the rising niche of afterlife comedies. Warning: this review contains some show spoilers.
One night, pretty-boy game developer Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is on his way home when his self-driving car malfunctions. The crash leaves him fatally injured, so he chooses to upload himself into a top-dollar Horizen afterlife resort called Lakeview. Nathan’s body is replaced with an avatar and his soul now lives on a hard drive. With the help of his assigned Angel—a customer service agent named Nora (Andy Allo)—Nathan learns to navigate his new ‘life’ with other deceased Uploads as well as his inter-dimensional relationship with his vapid girlfriend Ingrid Kannerman (Allegra Edwards). Since Nathan’s family was financially unprepared, Ingrid funds his Upload and controls all of his purchases on a tight leash.
Charming Nathan and his Angel quickly bond. They covertly flirt while pondering the financial and moral battles of uploading and playing pranks on each other in a gorgeous fake autumn landscape. As an Angel, Nora can watch through her clients’ memories like a camera roll. Shockingly, Nora discovers that some of Nathan’s memories are corrupted: he and his best friend Jamie (Jordan Johnson-Hinds) were developing a free-access upload world for those who couldn’t afford Lakeview-level luxuries—which he cannot recall. Nora starts to suspect that Nathan’s death may not have been an accident, and she begins the hunt to solve his mysterious death.
In between the star-crossed romance and cybercrimes, there are dozens of futuristic easter eggs. A Kamala-Oprah 2024 campaign poster; the Tinder-style “Nightly” app, improved with a body-cam consent feature; Ingrid’s friendship with her pube stylist; unnecessary corporation merges like Oscar Meyer Intel and Panera-Facebook. There’s a healthy dose of diversity among side characters; the Horizen Angels are racially mixed, his next-door neighbors are a married gay couple. But as per primetime rom-com style, the square-jaw straight white guy and his Eurocentric girlfriend take the lead. However, the show takes many opportunities for comedic acknowledgment of Nathan’s privilege.
Upload reflects upon the belief that capitalism will always prevail. Where there is technological innovation, there will always be those who cannot afford it. Most sci-fi media portrays the future as universally accessible or at least shows a conscious choice to ignore the classism. Upload is unafraid to show the darker side. The privilege to continue contact with the living after death is laced with pricey upgrades. Nora shows Nathan the “Two Gigs,” the Uploads living on bare minimum funding in a soulless underground room. Horizon employees can barely afford their own Upload plans. It seems that Uploading is a double-edged sword of freedom and dystopia.
Every generation breeds a new genre of escapism. Comic book superheroes; grand fictional universes like Star Wars and Lord of The Rings; Twilight and its sparked forbidden romance genre. The late 2010s saw a thematic shift towards death and all that it may bring. Ricky Gervais’s After Life explores grief, TBS’s Miracle Workers expands the workplace comedy into Heaven, and Netflix’s Dead To Me shows how two widows can bond through grief. And the after-life theme is not new for Daniels. The Good Place, a speculation into the moral nature of the afterlife, was a magical combination of human ethics and humor. This morbid turn may be a response to a warranted nihilistic American outlook: the recent rise of Neo-Naziism, weekly fatal school shootings at the hands of the Trump Administration, the for-profit prison system paired with for-profit law enforcement, and now a turbulent pandemic. Or maybe it’s a natural cycle of comedy. After wearing through a lifetime of family dramas, forensic mysteries, and 3-camera sitcoms, why not explore what happens next? And death is always funny, right?
Upload is a sci-fi fantasy for those afraid of the nothingness that death promises. While it seems unlikely that the world of Upload will exist thirteen years from now, the show’s timely release during the pandemic gives quarantiners lots of room to dream. But self-driving cars can be hacked (ahem, Elon) and 3D printed food probably won’t taste any better than freeze-dried ‘astronaut’ ice cream. Upload reminds us that emerging technology cannot be considered societally beneficial until it has universal access. And that no one, still, has the right answer to where we go when the lights turn off. ✰
Ollie Barry is a digital video editor and sound designer from New Jersey and an alum of Boston University. Find them online as @officialmomdad.