May 12, 2020

“Upload” Season One Review: Sitcom or Edgy Drama?

Once again, pop culture and streaming television have predicted the future, and while we’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic scenarios on screen, the future depicted in Amazon Prime’s new series Upload is one I wouldn’t mind living in.

As is the case with most future worlds, technology has essentially consumed society. Cars are nearly fully automated (with built-in artificial intelligence), virtual reality is widely used, and watches do everything your phone can (sound familiar?). But if you had the choice, would you “upload” your consciousness to a digital afterlife instead of dying?

After a car accident, app developer Nathan (Robbie Amell) is forced to make that choice, pressured by his wealthy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) to upload so they can be together forever. Nathan is (understandably) opposed to the concept of spending the rest of eternity tied to Ingrid, since she would control every aspect of his virtual world as she is providing the money to fund his upload process.

Nathan’s mind is sent to the 20th century-style Lakeview hotel, which is built and sponsored by massive company Horizen. At one Horizen’s customer service headquarters, rep Nora (Andy Allo) is one of the many “angels” that are omnipresent in Lakeview to attend to the needs of their assigned uploads. Angels aren’t supposed to fraternize with their uploads, but Nora and Nathan strike up a friendship that’s very enjoyable to watch play out.

Most of that is due to Amell and Allo’s charming performances. Their characters are realistic and their relationship is believable, albeit a little cheesy and cliché. Creator Greg Daniels (an experienced sitcom writer, having developed The Office and Parks and Recreation) is no stranger to awkwardness and flirt, and the realism of Nathan and Nora’s characters are very telling of his experience in the television format.

Amazon and Netflix, among other streaming giants, have been on a roll in recent years with masterful shows, including Ozark, The Boys and Carnival Row, all received positively by critics and audiences alike. Upload seems that it wants to join them in being an edgy, mature streaming series, proudly showing off its gore, sex, and adult language (sometimes gratuitously). But it’s undoubtedly a comedy (despite having some truly dark moments), and it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a network sitcom or go for something more adult. Its uncertainty doesn’t necessarily hurt the show, but it occasionally proves jarring as the show decides to take one route over the other.

Call it what you like, but Upload is an ambitious new offering from Greg Daniels that is an entertaining use of time and an easy way to fill the streaming void. You’ll get sucked into this detailed future world that you’ll soon find is not so far removed from our own. Already renewed for a second season, this is definitely the time to catch up on this hilariously irreverent series. And it’s easy to digest, featuring ten reasonably-timed and well-paced episodes. [Grade: A]

Showrunners: Greg Daniels and Howard Klein
Starring: Robbie Amell, Andy Allo, Allegra Edwards, Zainab Johnson, Kevin Bigley
Rated: TV-MA (sex, gore, language)
Available: Amazon Prime
Fun Fact: The name of Nathan’s niece, Nevaeh, is ‘heaven’ spelled backwards.

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