In the opening scenes of the futuristic Upload public transport users are seen wearing face masks, which is an unnerving start to Amazon Prime’s new sci-fi comedy. But then I notice there’s zero social distancing going on…. ok I guess this is safe enough to be a work of fiction.
The new series comes from Greg Daniels -he of The Office, King of the Hill and Parks & Rec fame. Unlike those, this is not attempting to be laugh-out-loud. Indeed, calling it a comedy may be overselling expectations.
The hero of our story is Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) a computer programmer whose life is so perfect that his only complaint appears to be his annoying, self-centred girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards). In 2033, life is otherwise pretty cozy: the cars drive themselves and follow commands like KITT in Knight Rider, phones are a virtual swipe at the end of your fingertips, Oprah has already been President, and the police pull drivers over via drone (ok I guess, that’s a downside).
The afterlife has also been overhauled. Now there’s an option to Upload your consciousness into digital storage, while technology awaits a body reboot -cryogenics is so ’70s. After Nathan is fatally wounded in a car crash he reluctantly chooses the new option over death on his hospital stretcher, before being scanned and Uploaded in a futuristic MRI.
Suddenly Nathan finds himself at Lakeview, a grand hotel ripped straight from the pages of a Banff travel brochure. Here he has a suite with an endless mini-bar, a view of the rolling countryside and an on-call “Angel” to solve his every complaint. The Angel is actually Nora (Andy Allo), a jaded Horizon tech assistant able to communicate via VR and zap herself avatar-style into Nathan’s world.
“This is the first day of the rest of your AfterLife,” she advises. Great.
Nora has her own earthly frustrations with work, family life and romance and it isn’t long before ‘dead’ Nathan and ‘living’ Nora are connecting across the digital streams, even if it breaks company policy.
More plot development will surround Nathan’s death as he reconnects with the living he has left behind.
There are cute futuristic observations, such as 3D printing a Jamie Oliver dish, or giving star ratings to casual sex partners (Tindr is known here as Nitely), having a Passthought instead of a Password, and opting for an Australian accent when choosing your afterlife characteristics (a system glitch soon corrected!).
But mostly Upload is about Nathan checking out his cool new digs, getting to know Nora and discovering the truth of his car crash. There’s also a smattering of adult humour, including peeing creatively to the sounds of A Fifth of Beethoven.
Robbie Amell (The Tomorrow People, The Flash, Code 8) is instantly likeable as the handsome Nathan. Indeed he is so distractingly fetching I found it hard not to constantly focus on the small mole under his bottom lip -perfect he ain’t, phew! But there’s barely enough layers to his character to hold up the 45 minute opening episode (subsequent eps are about 30 minutes each).
By comparison Black Mirror tackles this territory with biting insight, and The Good Place with more punchlines and while Upload is effortlessly light, it doesn’t deliver nearly enough on either level.
Upload is now screening at Amazon Prime.