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Upload Series Review: Very Late-Stage Capitalism

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BY May 22, 2020
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Upload, the new Prime Video show from Greg Daniels (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Office, Parks and Recreation), shows us death in the not-so-distant future. Joshua said the log line sounds like a Black Mirror episode. (Or as I said in our work Slack, “…like 5 Black Mirror episodes.”) Watching it, I was reminded of that show, as well as Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation of Maniac. And The Good Place. And M.T. Anderson’s book Feed. But do those similarities preclude this show from being worth watching? I’ll get to the bottom of that in my Upload series review.

Preparing for Upload: Please Stand Still Until the Scan Completes

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Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is kind of, as another character later describes him, an “LA douchebag.” And he’d probably go on being one forever if he didn’t die shortly after we meet him. However, death isn’t the end for him. Technological advances have made it possible to have your consciousness uploaded into a digital afterlife. Thanks to his wealthy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards), Nathan goes to Lakeview, pretty cushy digs.

Lakeview, like its rivals, is basically a resort. But it’s not all-inclusive. All that luxury costs money, even in death. Add-ons and upgrades cost even more. Those who can’t afford it can either spend eternity the old-fashioned way or as one of the “2Gs,” who get exactly that amount of data each month and no more. (And even thinking too hard costs data.)

This is absurd, obviously. The dead don’t need any of this–the food, the leisure activities, etc.–and none of it is real. All of it, including the dead residents themselves, is just code, just ones and zeroes. It’s also just a way for Horizen, which operates Lakeview, to make more money.

Everything about it is a business. As such, the customer service representatives, known as “angels,” who tend to each guest, must strive toward five-star ratings. In the future, even death is a gig economy.

Nathan’s angel is Nora Antony (Andy Allo). She’s actually the one who describes him as a douchebag, but that opinion will change. Their relationship will put the “rom” in romcom. This is not a spoiler, by the way; even 2Gs can see this coming. At the same time, Nathan still has a relationship with Allegra. She’s not just his girlfriend, though. As the account holder, she’s also like his eternity landlord. She can control everything he’s allowed to do, even in death.

Upload: Scan Complete

upload series review image via Amazon

If you know about Daniels’s previous work with Michael Schur, then you might expect this show to be something like Schur’s The Good Place. However, The Good Place spent a lot more time talking about philosophy, obviously, as well as the big questions about life after death. There is a dash of that here, as Nathan unquestionably becomes a better person in Lakeview. That’s not the sole focus of the show, though.

If there is a bigger thread running through the show than Nathan and Nora’s burgeoning relationship, then it’s the way that capitalism determines our quality of life even when our lives are over. Even in digital heaven, for instance, we can’t escape ads. And while death comes for everyone, not everyone’s afterlife is equal. Richer Lakeview residents, like David Choak (William B. Davis), for example, can afford a better experience. Meanwhile, Nora struggles to raise her customer rating so she can qualify for an employee discount for her dad, Dave (Chris Williams), who’s dying of “vape lung.”

Upload Series Review

upload series review image via Amazon

It’s apparent then that not everyone is sanguine about a digital afterlife. There are several references to “Ludds,” the technophobes who may just be Luddites or who may actually be terrorists. (This was the part, by the way, that made me think of Feed, with its hackers who disrupt feeds.) This comes into play with the main storyline, as we learn that Nathan is missing several critical memories.

Incidentally, it’s Choak who first puts into words what may be the weakest storyline. The accident that preceded Nathan’s death is so unlikely that everyone thinks he’s joking when he tells them how he died. It becomes clearer as the show moves along, though, that there may indeed be something suspicious about his death. They may be saving the finer details of this storyline for another season, but as it is, it feels thin.

Because between the sharp satire and the impossible-to-resist chemistry between Nathan and Nora, the mystery/thriller storyline doesn’t feel as well-integrated. But that’s a small thing in a series that’s often touching and lively, especially for one about a dead guy.

Have you watched Upload yet or are you planning on it? Upload your thoughts in the comments below or on social media. (I recommend creating a GUI interface using Visual Basic.)

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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