Dying has been one of the greatest fears in all of human existence. Not knowing what awaits us after death has defined human culture through religion and spiritual beliefs. However, what would you do, and how would you feel, if you knew that your consciousness could be uploaded to the cloud? What might the financial and social implications look like?
In another entry of original programming for streaming services, Amazon Studios has come out with a new sci-fi series that looks at this idea, but with its tongue not entirely planted in its cheek. Set in a not too distant future, Upload not only looks at the ramifications of such a digital construct for the human soul but also takes some wonderful stabs at the digital world as it might exist in a decade or so. The series primarily deals with a coder named Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) who suddenly finds himself in a death and death situation after his auto-driving car mysteriously has an accident with him in it, putting him in a situation where he can risk having the hospital doctors try to perform surgery and save his life, or take the safe route and be uploaded given that he’s told that he is going to die. He takes the upload and it’s nothing like he has ever imagined. Despite the stunning setting for his digital heaven, he’s deeply miserable and comes dangerously close to ending his digital existence. After talking with his “angel” (Nora, played by Andy Allo, who is a customer service tech designed to help clients acclimate to their new digital life), as well as a talking dog who serves as his psycho-therapist, Nathan tries to get a grasp and accept his new “afterlife.” It doesn’t help that his girlfriend (who financially arranged for his upload and continued existence) waffles between being domineering to uncaring, and his neighbor David Choak (wonderfully played by William B. Davis) has planted the thought into Nathan’s head that he was murdered for his new invention. Oh, and Nathan has memory gaps regarding his invention or the fact that before his death another company was interested in his invention, which could threaten the very company responsible for his uploaded afterlife. Yep, he has no complete memory of that.
Amazon Studios has been trudging away for a few years now in trying to come up with strong original content, and I think this series is it. After only three episodes I have found the storytelling to be wonderfully dense, but never to the point of becoming burdensome. Written by Greg Daniels (show creator) the story and character details are meticulously laid out that cover a great deal of ground while never feeling entirely rushed. The pacing is excellent that kept me engaged from the start, and once Nathan was uploaded the turns in the story start gently but take little time in presenting some unusual details that alter the tone of the series. From the trailers, it looks like it’s supposed to be a light comedy, but during the first episode, it becomes clear that this is more of a satire. From the big business names that seem strongly familiar to seeing how people today rely on all forms of technological assistance this series shows us that not all of these advances are proven to be as beneficial as we think. It’s wonderfully presented in a manner to make us laugh, but the message is still there. Then there is this growing mystery. The nature of Nathan’s car accident is suspicious enough once it happens but as the story progresses it becomes clear that there is much more as to why Nathan was uploaded.
It’s been several years since fans may have seen Robbie Amell, but he has a wonderfully relaxed approach to his acting. Acting is more than just going through the motions and emoting in whatever way is required. Sometimes, it calls upon just being still and present in the scene. One moment has Nathan sitting and listening to Nora as she unloads on him some of the worries she is dealing with her own personal life. While Allo may have had the heavier acting responsibility in that scene, Amell is equally engaged with her in the act of listening. It may sound easy, but many times actors are thinking ahead on their lines while waiting for their cues, but Amell actually looks like he’s listening to someone talking to him. I found the entire scene to be both subtle and refreshing. This brings us to Andy Allo.
As Nora, Allo gives us a character who is desperately trying to do the right thing and please as many people around her as possible, including all of her clients that have been assigned to her after being uploaded. Allo shows us the beleaguered customer service rep who wants to do what is best for the customer but is unable to satisfy them. Allo’s performance has layers that when pulled back show someone who is very vulnerable. She does a magnificent job of putting the right face on customer service reps who receive nothing but abuse 8 hours a day. Lastly, there is Allegra Edwards as Nathan’s girlfriend Ingrid. Playing a character like Ingrid is quite challenging given that she appears to have ulterior motives when it comes to Nathan. In one scene she jumps from being extremely cold and manipulating to coming off as both vapid and vacuous. However, the real challenge is that she does it seamlessly reminding us that this is the same character. This allows Edwards to drop seeds suggesting that there is so much more to Ingrid than meets the eye.
After only three episodes I find Upload to be one of the most original and engaging TV series to come along in a long time and the fact that it comes from Amazon Studios is an indicator that Amazon is becoming a force to be reckoned with, not just with other streaming services but with network and cable channels as well.
For it’s satirical and sometimes hilarious content, along with an intriguing mystery, Upload is definitely a series I’m going to follow with great interest!