Upload cast: Robbie Amell, Andy Arlo and Zainab Johnson
Upload creator: Greg Daniels
Upload rating: 3 stars
Self-driving cars. Phones that are essentially a hologram that snap into existence in the L between the forefinger and thumb. The promise of eternal life even after you are dead. These are the few salient features of Upload, a quirky, sci-fi-ish show that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The show is for sure heavy on the tech stuff, but that’s just the world it is set in. Once you get over the initial geekiness of it all, Upload reveals its many layers. It is a scathing critique of capitalism, a comment on the haves and have nots and why ‘AI is the worst’. And the core of it all is a love story with a murder mystery thrown in. Comparisons with The Good Place will not be amiss, but while the other was all sunshiney and feel good, Upload kind of hits you hard at times.
Its the 2030s and we meet Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), an up and coming software developer who is seriously injured in a car accident. His girlfriend Ingrid Kannerman (Allegra Edwards) offers to sponsor his one-way ticket to the ‘other’ heaven, Lakeview, a digital afterlife, where you can upload yourself and enjoy eternal life. But clearly, all is not well between Nathan and Ingrid. As he is being rushed for surgery, Ingrid whispers, “Now you can just old-fashioned die, or we could be together forever.” Cringing, in what we assume is pain, Nathan says, “You are amazing.. but.. forever is just like too long to think about.”
But the lure of eternal life, even in the digital form, seemed to outweigh the negatives of being Ingrid’s boyfriend forever. We meet Robbie when he wakes up in Lakeview, and a pixelated world comes into focus in a luxuriant high-definition avatar. And while he cries and accepts his new reality, he has his guiding ‘angel’ Nora, a customer service executive who is charged with taking care of Nathan, while she is on her shift. Through Nathan, we are taken to the beauteous Lakeview, and we meet with an interesting mix of people: a cute gay couple who live next door; a 10-year-old boy who fell into the Grand Canyon and died; Luke, a war veteran and David Choke, who ‘ran the second largest company in the world and influenced American politics for an entire generation’.
Slowly and steadily through Nathan, we discover the workings of Lakeview. While people like David Choke have a ’25,000 square feet living space and a 12 acre backyard’, Nathan is dependent on Ingrid approving everything he does, even him trying to eat something from his room’s mini bar has to be ‘an in-app purchase’ approved by Ingrid. While everything is luxurious and in top shape above ground, we also meet the 2Gigs, ‘Lakewview’s lowest class of uploads’, who survive on ‘lean cuisine’ and are able to only read the first five pages of a book, as its a ‘free sample’. Hats off to the world-building, the graphics and the design alone will make up for the at times meandering plot.
Patience is the key with Upload. The first two episodes are where you have to stay put and plough through, but once you get over the nerd lingo, you get the minute satire that’s inbuilt in every scene — very Greg Daniels, who created the show. Pay attention and you will get those gems right from the first five minutes of the show. Upload is a departure from Daniels usual oeuvre, small-town USA, cutesy, quirky, relatable characters. Think Leslie Knope and Andy Dwyer (Parks and Recreation), and Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute (The Office). Nora here is riddled with angst and she is tortured about her dad suffering a terminal disease. Nathan initially comes across as quite shallow. Daniels made us chuckle and have outright bursts of laughter as we watched Michael Scott play a petulant boss, or when Jim played pranks on Dwight and when Leslie Knope married two gay penguins in Pawnee. In Upload, the humour is quite dark at times. Nora is miffed when her date from the dating app Nicely gives her four stars instead of the gold standard five. The prospect of some giving you stars after a date is kinda unnerving. Aren’t there enough problems already where dating is concerned? Nathan’s attempts to have intimate relations with his girlfriend through a sex suit is a bittersweet anecdote.
Upload raises important questions regarding our dependency on artificial intelligence. The spectre of capitalism is looming large in the afterlife as well, and though there is an earnest plea by Nathan about how “Horizon should just give everyone… clothing, an entire book.. it’s just code.” “They want people to pay for upgrades. It’s called capitalism,” explains Nora. The rich getting richer, a tale as old as time.
Hopefully, there is a second season of Upload. In keeping with tradition, Daniels has always had a tough first season be it The Office or Parks and Recreation. It is the second season onwards that he hits his stride of pride. But even for a first season, Upload is very watchable. Just ignore the nerdiness of it all.
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