Amazon Prime released 10 episodes of their much-advertised, new series Upload this weekend. It’s a show exploring the idea of a digital afterlife. When you are on death’s door you can choose to die in the traditional sense or be uploaded. The show explores this idea through both moral/spiritual and socio-economic lenses. However, that makes it sound much more high-brow than it is and possibly gives it too much credit.
Without giving away too much of the plot, the general premise is that our main character, Nathan, finds himself in a rare self-driving car accident. He is very injured, disoriented and needs to choose between having hopefully lifesaving surgery or Upload, the digital afterlife. At the time of his death, Nathan is working on a big project with his real-life best friend and trying to get it funded.
Keep It Simple
I enjoy that the writers trust the audience enough to not over explain everything, especially when it comes to the technology they introduce. For example, when talking about food being printed and one character comments to another “I think you need to check the fat cartridge.” They trust you understand the steak is dry and perhaps lacking flavor. Overall, none of the technology is terribly over the top and most of it has some basis in current technologies and research. Expecting the audience to understand isn’t unreasonable. Maybe printing your food still seems a little far fetched, but 3-D printer technology is getting quite creative. Keeping the technology relatable to current innovations and within the realm of possibility allows the viewer to draw parallels between the fictitious world and the one we currently live in.
The concept of In-App purchases needs no explanation either and is one of the funnier, early plot points that quickly takes a dark twist. It easily demonstrates class and money issues before you’re introduced to the 2Gigs or see the poverty and class divides. The writers were careful to introduce the viewer to the concept of Upload from a wealthy perspective first. Lower class and seedier aspects of the option and society as a whole are revealed as the show progresses.
It is an interesting twist to see the dead reliant on and sometimes “owned” by the living. You don’t have the usual waiting with bated breath for the reading of the will to find out who will benefit from the death. It also makes you think about how not only would you need to save for your retirement, but your death as well; and not in a coffins, plots and cremations sort of way.
It tries to do too much. Is it a dramedy? A sitcom? A rom-com? A whodunnit? It tries to be all of the above. If it had stuck with maybe whodunnit and dramedy, keeping the dark edge in the humor, I would have enjoyed it more. The situational comedy and romantic comedy aspects were a step too far for me. Possibly, they go a character trope too far as well. There are quite a few including the current, clingy, vapid girlfriend; the love interest, who is most definitely not the girlfriend; the goofy, forcing friendship guy; the terrible, selfish boss; the always in trouble best friend to the love interest; the Scrooge McDuck/Mr. Burns type; and the list goes on.
The character I take the most issue with is Luke. He is the goofy guy, forcing himself into the role of afterlife best friend and a veteran. His character is also, quite frankly, insulting. It’s implied that he was suffering from PTSD, or at least from depression after losing both of his legs in Iran. It is also implied that he committed “Scanicide” to enter the upload afterlife and have legs again. There is no explanation of where his money comes from, but he also doesn’t appear to have a ton since he keeps finding ways to hack the system and not pay for upgrades. This could be just another way of highlighting his mischievous/playful side, but it isn’t clear. The rest of the treatment of his character and the use of “He’s a veteran” to chastise someone taking issue with his terrible antics and ridiculous behavior is a bit weak. I’m not sure if they initially wanted being uploaded to erase trauma, but the quick introduction of talking “Therapy Animals” to help with the adjustment to the upload afterlife kind of negates that.
Not For Everyone
Overall, I didn’t hate Upload, but I don’t think that I can wholeheartedly recommend it either. I liked some of the non-slapstick humor, the somewhat dystopic setting and that it questions some of our reliance on technology. Also, the use of product placement, streaming and the hinted existence of a Luddite movement as social commentary was interesting. However, it seems like it is trying to be too many things at once and the supporting characters are a bit weak. It can get quite dark, there’s swearing, a little nudity scattered throughout the episodes and the odd graphic scene. Don’t expect a ton of it, however, that may make this out of your comfort zone. The episodes are 30 minutes long so it isn’t a huge time investment if you would like to check it out. I might take a look at season 2 when it comes out, but I’m not anxiously awaiting it.
Article by xSiren82