Review: Amazon’s ‘Upload’ is a sad mix of television hits
'Upload' is now streaming on Amazon Prime. (Photo via YouTube)
As Amazon workers began striking in demand of protections against the coronavirus, Amazon Prime released a satirical comedy series packed with criticism about big business, technology and the plight of working people. Upload may take place in a fictional world, but it is clearly inspired by an ironic reality.
The show was created by Greg Daniels, known for his writing on hits such as The Office and Parks and Recreation. This set high expectations for Upload. While the show had the opportunity to help during a time when distractions and comic relief are essential, ultimately, Upload does not find strength in its humor, paling in comparison to Daniels’ other hits.
The futuristic world of Upload — a place ruled by wealthy people and technology — is much like a cheerier version of the Black Mirror dystopia. Although characters aren’t glued to their screens, technology is integrated into every corner of life and death. This premise is even scarier now, given how much we’ve all stared at our screens over the past few months.
The series is a quirky investigation into what happens when we die and how we find happiness in the afterlife, reminiscent of The Good Place. The premise is that rich people can choose to upload themselves to Lakeview — a picturesque afterlife powered by technology company Horizen. People’s ability to continue “living” is like iCloud’s ability to preserve anything and everything. This world includes service animals that provide actual therapy services and “angels” who help them from the “real world” via headsets and virtual reality.
Horizen is an Amazon replica. It holds a powerful grip on people’s relationships and work-related decisions, whether they are aware of it or not. This is especially true for the angels, who struggle to maintain an identity separate from their jobs. They are also overworked — similar to the claims of their real-life counterparts. And as if this relation was not blatant enough, Amazon’s website and boxes are seen in episodes.
Besides the clear Amazon references, product placement from other companies — such as Oscar Mayer — emphasize that corporations are integrated into our personal lives, too. While targeted ads do bombard us on social media and TV, at least businesses do not follow us after death like they do in Upload.
Robbie Amell plays Nathan, a man who, thanks to his rich girlfriend, uploads himself to Lakeview after his untimely death. While poorer people are unable to reach this paradise, Horizen rewards those who would ordinarily seem undeserving. Just like The Good Place, the series follows Nathan’s journey into becoming a better person after his death.
On top of the complicated sci-fi premise, Upload is sprinkled with mystery surrounding Nathan’s death, including multiple love interests. But despite having so many storylines, the show barely devotes any time to developing them. It instead focuses on the many technological features of the environment surrounding them.
Nathan’s budding romance with his angel, Nora, is intended to be an emotional anchor within the series, but his conspiracy-ridden death and the futuristic world he inhabits fight for attention too. The series is bold, and Daniels’ choice to focus on comedy in this sci-fi premise is unique. However, the multiple storylines and complex world connections make the series overwhelmingly busy.
Focusing on just one issue would have been satisfying enough. Commentary on income inequality, overworked employees, technology’s control and big business power all pop up in the show. But it would have benefited all of these causes if the series just focused on one. Roughly 30 minutes of awkward comedy certainly was not the way to address all these topics.
Regardless of the series’ success, Upload is setting an important precedent. It grapples with many societal problems at a surface level, but still generates important conversations. It proves comedies are capable of making viewers think critically, even through jokes. Upload forces you to consider the future, which is especially uncertain right now. And though all of Upload may not be possible in the future, the power of technology and businesses such as Amazon may not be too far off.