Amazon UK TV review: Upload
Ivan Radford | On 01, May 2020
“She’s in heaven.” “Oh, which one?” “Lakeview.” “I hear that’s really pretty.”
Death. The great leveller. But what if it wasn’t? That’s the kicker of an idea at the heart of Upload, Amazon Prime Video’s new comedy. The show, created by The Office and Parks and Recreation’s Greg Daniels, introduces us to a world where the afterlife has become a digital product – an eccentric place with an absurd sense of humour that will be familiar to anyone who has seen The Good Place. To compare the two, though, is to miss what makes Upload an intriguing and entertaining watch. The show balances its silly streak with a surprising satirical vein, investing as much effort in serious issues of social inequality as it does in slapstick and non-sequiturs.
That wouldn’t be possible without a convincing backdrop, and Upload’s biggest strength is its world-building. Greg Daniels conjures up a universe that’s immediately believable even with its heightened weirdness, rooting its existential matters in day-to-day routine – Heaven is a tangible dimension, essentially one big VR hangout, but you still can’t order breakfast after 10am, and star ratings are more important than ever.
Nathan (Robbie Amell) discovers all of this early on, when he ends up in a car crash – despite the fact that cars in this world are automated to prevent such accidents. His rich girlfriend, Ingrid (Allegra Edwards), convinces him to be uploaded to her family’s afterlife, Lakeview, and after agreeing in the chaos of being rushed to hospital, he finds himself stranded in a limbo where his consciousness is preserved but having a Diet Coke requires an in-app purchase.
Guiding him through this strange new existence is Nora (Andy Allo), his “angel” – another word for glorified customer service assistant. Because yes, behind all the virtual wizardry is a decidedly un-Heavenly reality: the telephone agents helping out the recently passed-on are all overworked and underpaid (and can only access healthcare if their customer feedback is high enough), while the actual “upload” process mostly involves someone’s head being vaporised, and the rest of their corpse collapsing into an ice-filled box. Funerals become services centred on auto-slideshows from smartphone photos, while the deceased watches through a one-way screen.
Daniels’ imagination clearly enjoys the chance to run wild in these outlandish scenarios, and Amell does bewildered and surprised well. Daniels also takes the chance to step away from sitcom territory into murder-mystery conspiracy, as Nathan’s Earthly expiry looks increasingly suspicious – not least because he was involved in developing a new app linked to making the afterlife affordable.
That attempt to create something narratively more substantial than a sitcom means that Upload downplays its laughs, something that may well frustrate viewers expecting a higher gag rate from the half-hour episodes. But the show is at its best when it leans into the juxtaposition of the shiny computer surface and its unglamorous underside – a contrast that’s captured with chemistry and charm by Allo and Amell’s socially-distanced interactions (the opposite of the strained, shallow conversations between Nathan and Edwards’ brilliantly awful Ingrid). By the time we’re joining them in the “2 gig” zone, where uploaded people don’t have enough data to do more than wander around half-clothed with no food, there’s an intriguingly sharp point to this softly-lit comedy.
Upload takes its time for all this to come into focus, so those seeking a quick-fire, lightweight watch may well find themselves sliding towards The Office or Parks and Recreation before the show fully calculates its tone. But the cast and witty script make this worth booting up and the first season builds to a climax that superbly balances its social commentary with its central love triangle – if you’re looking for a show that can find a way to exploit a bizarre limbo to its own advantage, this is the place to be.
Upload: Season 1 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.