In January 2020, NBC’s The Good Place came to an end. It was a bittersweet comedy about life after death and finding yourself in the “good place”, i.e. Heaven; or the “bad place”, i.e. well, down there. Mike Schur’s series not only talked about death, but battled morality, ethics, and the idea that people can change, even after death. In May of 2020, Prime TV’s Upload positioned to take the baton.
Kinda Like Sims 4…
Upload stars Robbie Amell, Andy Allo, Zainab Johnson, Allegra Edwards and Kevin Bigley. The series follows Nathan Brown (Amell) as he’s rushed to the hospital after a near fatal and extremely rare accident involving his self-driving car. He has two choices, chance it out in the ER or go to Upload.
The Upload procedure essentially digitizes consciousness and “uploads” it into an idyllic setting called Lakeview. There are (eerily similar looking) waitstaff to attend to every beck and call. Everything is programmed as it is in the living world, from sight, touch, sound and taste. Being mostly a computer program, there are bugs and glitches that can either wreak havoc, or be hacked by some of the more savvy residents. When Nathan arrives he’s awoken slowly by his”Angel” aka his human handler, Nora Antony (Allo). Nora is a customer service rep for Horizon, who manages Lakeview. She works at Lakeview to ensure her ailing father uploads once he passes.
It’s an interesting look into the idea of satying with loved ones after they pass. In Lakeview homes people of all ages, including a child who is just 12 years old. He's been in Lakeview almost half his life. Is it ethical to keep him alive? It is if the family has enough money which ends up being the crux of the show. Lakeview is inhabited by a number of citizens, but their experiences are measured by how much they can afford to pay to stay there. Normally this debt gets passed on to the family.
While residents are in Lakeview, living loved ones can use a VR suit to plug into the program and spend time with them. Again, for those who can afford it.
Underneath Lakeview lies several levels of increasing depreciation until citizens reach a sub level where the digital avatars of lost souls languish frozen until their balances reset. When Nathan awoke in Lakeview he had missing pieces of his memory, but with Nora’s help, he realizes that he was actually a computer programmer and working on a free Horizon alternative called “Beyond”. Suddenly his coincidental death doesn’t seem so random.
Getting to The Bottom of It
While Nathan navigates his ex-fiance/girlfriend, Ingrid Kannerman (Edwards), who also happens to finance his digital existence, Nora tries to understand exactly what happened to Nathan. She’s become fond of her client and especially becomes interested in uncovering some difficult truths about Lakeview, Horizon, and her plans for her father. She investigates with the help of friends like her co-worker Aleesha (Johnson). Aleesha tries to deal with her latest client, Luke (Bigley) who was a former army corporal that becomes charmingly obsessed with being best friends with Nathan.
Over the next two seasons the unwitting foursome begin to uncover details such as the real cause of Nathan’s accident, Ingrid’s father’s position as a board member for Horizon, and Horizon’s latest announce – Freeyond – a clear copycat of Beyond. With his restored memories, Nathan realizes that while shopping the software, they received an offer from Horizon and from a smaller, more moralistic company. They publicly went with the smaller company but later viewers learn that the Beyond software was sold to Horizon anyway.
Freeyond is a corrupted version with nefarious motives and far reaching consequences. Still, it’s a necessary alternative for those who aren’t ready to fully pass on. In order to really understand the depths of the corporate misconduct, Nathan needs to rejoin the real world and at the end of season 2 makes an attempt to “download”.
While Upload teems institutional intrigue, at its heart is a love story. When Nathan enters Lakeview, it’s because of the means of Ingrid. In life, Nathan could be described as vapid, a man with a heart of gold, but sometimes less than moral means of achieving his goals. He’d play the game as it was meant to be played and he wasn’t big on being a disruptor. During his afterlife, he begins to see that while he’s changed, Ingrid has not. And as Ingrid senses Nathan pulling away (and meandering towards Nora), she becomes obsessive and clingy to the point of reducing his data so he gets frozen on the lower levels.
At the beginning of season 3, an interesting incident occurs when digital Nathan downloads, and Aleesha’s season 2 temp hire – the hapless Tinsley (Mackenzie Cardwell) – sees the discrepancy of Nathan missing and uploads a copy from a previous backup. So now we have virtual Nathan who lives in Lakeview with Ingrid (who has lied to him that she uploaded when really she’s in a bathtub in her VR suit) and organic Nathan in the real world with Nora.
Yes, Nathan’s attempt to download works, but not without complications. When they watched the first televised download, the participant’s head exploded and their upload data was lost forever. Tensions are high during Nathan’s attempt and while it seemed to go okay, he’s been experiencing nosebleeds that put both he and Nora on edge. They’re trying to solve a mystery and navigate a sentient relationship all against a probable ticking time bomb. Back in Lakeview, virtual Nathan is unaware of any of this and is trying to figure out what’s changed. Ingrid is thrilled since Nathan was reset back to the time he was in love with her, but even he begins an attraction with Nora, forcing Ingrid to try and prove herself again.
Uncovering The Truth of Upload
Aleesha and Luke were Angel partners, but Aleesha looks to excel in the company. She hires Tinsley to the dismay of Luke who starts to realize he has feelings for Aleesha. Aleesha may have also been close to realizing – their banter was very much pulling pigtails flirty – but has removed herself as Luke’s Angel in order to climb the corporate ladder. She meets Karina Silva (Jeanine Mason), a powerful and cunning (and beautiful) senior executive at Horizon. The two fall into a romance and as Karina tries to mentor Aleesha into the world of upper management, Aleesha begins to see that while extremely hot and charismatic, Karina might not be such a great person.
According to Greg Daniels, Upload has enticed viewers to Prime Video thanks in part to its quirky premise, committed performances and abundance in heart. Upload balances these along with heavy topics and comedy successfully. The character’s zaniness – like the aforementioned wait staff who are all modeled after actor Boris Netherlands (Owen Daniels) trying to learn to be more human, is balanced with Nora and Nate in real life dangerous situations. Season 3 also has a great way of giving equal weight to all of the main characters. Luke is a fan favorite who shows up at just the right times for much needed comedic relief.
The silliness can overcome the larger issues that sometimes seem forced. Modern approximations of technological advancement include all food being synthetic and made in food printers, as well as company hybrids like Google owning Samsung and Chipotle owning Facebook. Showing the environmental impact that really drives the need for companies that create an afterlife that is better than the real world would benefit the show.
Outside of that, Upload earns its popularity through thoughtful scripts and excellent comedic performances.
Season 3 will air weekly on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, October 20th.
score: 7/10 specs
Stacey Yvonne - Critic on Beyonce's Internet
Hailing from the mild, mild Midwest, I knew I would be Los Angeles bound and before I knew it, I was in the wild west! I'm an entertainment journalist, TV & Film critic, moderator and red carpet reporter. I write for sites like Black Girl Nerds, The Geekiary, Out.com and The Cherry Picks. I love elevating Black, female and queer voices. I graduated suma cum laude from the school of hard knocks and just finished my PhD program in "These Streets". Looking forward to passing on my knowledge to all of you fine folk.