15th May2020

‘Upload: Season One’ Review (Amazon Prime)

by Jason Brigger

Stars: Robbie Amell, Andy Allo, Zainab Johnson, Kevin Bigley, Allegra Edwards | Created by Greg Daniels

Upload is a new series from the creator of the American version of The Office, Greg Daniels, and is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime.

In 2033, people that are about to die are able to “upload” their memories and consciousness to a hard drive, which then can be uploaded to a virtual version of Heaven. These digital versions of Heaven can vary based on how much you pay for the services and your reputation in society. Have a limited income? You might live out your eternity in some less than desirable place, like a casino or a virtual dormitory-like room. If you have unlimited resources though, you could go to Fiji or even the luxurious Lake View, a resort located in a tranquil country estate.

The series follows 27-year-old Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), a computer programmer who is injured in an auto accident when his self-driving vehicle (they never crash!) rear-ends a truck. Nathan is in a life-or-death situation and while at the hospital, he must make a life-altering decision. First option: let the doctors attempt to save his life, but if he dies during surgery, he doesn’t know if the afterlife is real and who know where he would end up. The second option: he can choose to upload his brain to Lake View and guarantee at least some form of a guaranteed afterlife. A side note here, a deceased person’s consciousness cannot be uploaded as there is no brain activity so the decision must be made while the person is “medically” alive.

His socialite girlfriend, Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) encourages him, a little too much, to upload to Lake View and promises to pay the bill. Ingrid’s persistence pays off and Nathan agrees to forgo the surgery and allow himself to be uploaded.

The first half of the season introduces the audience to this fantastic and unique world of Lake View. The simplest explanation of Lake View is that it’s a virtual reality game in which the deceased are avatars of their old selves and can feel, both emotionally and physically, everything a living person can feel. Since his still-living girlfriend, Ingrid, is the money manager for Nathan, it hampers his full experience at Lake View as she won’t pay for upgrades (spa treatments, different types of food, activities, etc.), which causes Nathan to be at Ingrid’s mercy. If he makes Ingrid mad, she freezes his account so no “in-game” purchases!

Just because a person is dead, doesn’t mean they can’t connect to the real world. The deceased can contact their still-living loved ones by texting or Facetime, and the living can even enter Lake View by virtual reality. For the really personal connection, significant others can even rent “intimate” suits in order to keep their intimate connection to their deceased loved one alive…pun attended.

In order to assist the Upload’s smooth transition into the virtual afterlife, each Upload has a team of “angels”, aka living customer service reps shown as virtual avatars, that attend to the Upload’s every request. For every request/job the angels complete, Uploads can rate and review them on a 5-star system, similar to Yelp. The angels with higher ratings receive more opportunities and benefits, including a company discount for Lake View that can be used when they or their loved ones die.

The company discount is the incentive that Nathan’s angel, Nora (played by the wonderful Andy Allo), is working towards in order to afford to have her dying father, Dave, (Chris Williams), join Lake View. Her father is reluctant to spend his afterlife in a virtual world as his wife (Nora’s mother) has already passed away, and he wants to be with her in what he believes is the real Heaven, not a virtual world. In episode seven, Nora does her best to persuade him, even having Nathan act as her father’s personal tour guide to sell the benefits of Lake View. This is one of the stronger episodes in the series and results in an in-depth conversation of what is more important to a person: faith that there is a Heaven but not 100% guaranteed or the proof of a virtual, but not a real, Heaven, that is 100% guaranteed.

The main storyline revolves Nora, a living person, beginning to form a more than professional (and complicated) relationship with the dead Nathan. Nora struggles with what is real and what isn’t in this world in which the lines between virtual reality and real-life are blurring more and more. The actress, Andy Allo, does a phenomenal job giving life to this character and does a good job of treading the line between humorous and serious. The interaction between actors Amell and Allo seems genuine and is a highlight of the series.

There is a sub-plot of who sabotaged Nathan’s self-driving vehicle and planned his murder, but the series doesn’t make it a priority until the last two episodes. The series jumps around without knowing if it wants to take the mystery seriously (there is a killer murdering approximately a dozen people!) or play it casually. Heck, I’m not even sure if Nathan cared enough to find out who killed him until Nora’s life is placed in danger. If the murder victim doesn’t care, why should we? The murder mystery doesn’t bog down the series, but it also doesn’t enhance the story or Nathan’s journey to accepting his fate.

When the series finally does decide the murder is important, it changes the tone of the series from a romantic comedy to a dark mystery that all of a sudden, becomes quite serious. The series is still enjoyable and opens up many possibilities in the second season, but the shift in tone is sudden and may alienate a portion of the audience.

The Good:

  • World Building. Upload’s first season is all about building the world in which these characters can flourish in, and the series succeeds in this regard. Gradually we learn why Nathan only sees the same people around Lake View (in order to not overload them, each Upload can only see people from the same five floors they are neighboring), why the less fortunate that can only “enjoy” Lake View until their limited monthly data plan expires, and we begin to understand how technology has overwhelmed the real world, a stark reality into what our real world may one day become.

The Bad:

  • Ingrid’s Character Development. The character of Ingrid, Nathan’s fiancée, is the most frustrating part of the series. The audience spends five episodes despising this vapid, narcissistic character, and then in episode six, she has a sleep-over with Nathan’s niece, Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backwards) and her character completely changes, though only briefly. It’s a good and heartwarming episode as the audience is introduced to her status-worry family and learns why Ingrid became “Ingrid”. After constant mocking by Ingrid’s family, she defends Nevaeh, which eventually results in Ingrid kicking her own family out of her house. Later Ingrid shows even more growth in her character by spending more quality time with Nevaeh by eating desert, hanging out, and doing each other’s hair, resulting in a funny visual joke. Just as you think Ingrid is turning the corner and may have more depth than the Ingrid we saw in the first half of the season, she reverts back to the socialite and narcissistic Ingrid we loathed. Any good quality the writers gave Ingrid in episode six is seemingly forgotten and is never revisited again in the first season.

The Middling:

  • Quirky Characters: The series is not short on introducing quirky characters, including Nathan’s other and less-than-helpful angel, Ivan, along with a living psychiatrist (Julian Christopher) with an avatar of a Labrador Retriever. In fact, the cast of quirky characters is too long to mention them all but the issue, as is common in most first seasons of television shows, is the lack of time to build on each character.I wanted to learn more about these characters, but the series never fully embraces it. I wanted to see more of Nathan’s wealthy neighbor (William Davis) who suspects Nathan was murdered and has a grudge against golfer Arnold Palmer, one of the best sight gags in the series. Ingrid’s grandmother Mildred (Hilary Jardine) is also in Lake View and instead of using her elderly body as an avatar, she uses an old black and white picture of herself in her younger years. Since the picture is black and white, Mildred’s avatar spends her afterlife without color. It’s another character that we don’t learn more about but feel we probably should. Hopefully season two can rectify this and bring more information on this great cast of supporting characters.

Final Grade: B (Good)

Upload is a series with a lot of untapped potential but is still able to produce a good, strong first season. The world is fun, almost every character is interesting or has the potential to be interesting, and despite its unevenness with Ingrid and the murder-mystery, is an enjoyable series to binge watch in these stay-at-home times.

You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcasting apps. 
You can listen to their latest episode right here.
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