Upload and the Issue With Series-Baiting
I live in a four person, four tablet household. Netflix has been my primary streaming service, but it’s also my two daughters’ primary streaming service. There’s a limit of only two active accounts at a time. So I’ve been watching shows on Disney +, Amazon Prime, and CBC Gem (Oh Canada!) that I might not have otherwise. Watching Schittz Creek across three different streaming service was a novel experience.
One shows that I probably would not have watched is the Amazon original series Upload.
The premise is solid: What if humanity creates its own digital afterlife?
Creator Greg Daniels explores the concept in clever and philosophical ways. Is a digital scan of your brain, however perfect, really you? Who owns the afterlife and how do they pay for it? If there was no barrier between Earth and the afterlife, what would the relationship between humans and souls be like?
Upload has a similar appeal to The Good Place, just with the levels of philosophy and social commentary inverted. Upload includes a lot of jokes about microtransactions and online advertising. There’s a secondary character who exploits bugs in the afterlife’s programming. Multiple subplots center around afterlife avatar aesthetics.
A Deeper Look
The show focuses a lot on worldbuilding, which is one of its strengths and weaknesses. It is strong when the world building leads to ideas like how the living and the dead can interact if the afterlife is based on virtual reality technology. Like when our protagonist, Nathan Brown (played by Robbie Amell, cousin of Arrow’s Stephen Amell) attends his own funeral.
Where the worldbuilding hurts the show is the metaplot of Nathan Brown’s murder. It’s a mystery, which means we spend a lot of time meeting or hearing about secondary characters to set up red herrings. Also, his death was caused by a malfunction of a self-driving car. To understand the investigation, we need to learn about how self-driving cars work in this future. It isn’t a huge detraction, but we could be following the twelve-year-old boy whose mom won’t let his avatar grow up, but his living friends are 18 and no longer interested in childhood games. Or the focus could be on ways the world is unfair and how money is at the root of why.
Utopia or Distopia?
We’re supposed to sympathize with Nathan, but I don’t know.
The show is gorgeous. It has that Good Place vibe where you forget it’s a show with a special effects budget, so the big sci-fi moments surprise you. Similarly, the show is TV-MA, but other than language, it doesn’t regularly rely on the freedom to be as graphic as they want, making the rare mature scenes more effective. And despite the underlying vibe of flaws and imperfections covered up superficially (in-world, this is not a critique of the production), the locales, food, and amenities portrayed make the afterlife in Upload (or at least Nathan’s afterlife, as we get glimpses of other, cheaper afterlife options) seem like somewhere you’d want to spend eternity.
How Good Place Is It?
I’ve compared Upload to The Good Place a couple of times. It’s hard not to. How many shows are there about the afterlife, let alone shows that combine comedy and drama so cleverly? Even though The Good Place is one of my favourite shows and I also enjoyed Upload, I wouldn’t say the two shows are that similar. If you say you like one, I might ask if you’ve seen the other, but I wouldn’t assume with full confidence that liking one means liking the other. Which is a good thing. The two series approach similar material in different ways. Neither makes the other redundant.
The Downside to Upload
The show ends with a twist. Unfortunately, even though I am surprised by what they went with, I wasn’t looking forward to exploring it, or to finding out that it wasn’t as it appeared. That’s the difference between a twist and a cliffhanger. I don’t know if I should expect more episodes of Upload, since no one else seems to be talking about it. And I’m disappointed that if there are more episodes, they might be saddled with the consequences of the season finale stunt that’s supposed to pull people in.
Upload was renewed for a second season. I need to figure out if I’m on board for more.