TV TATTLE

Amazon's Upload feels like an amalgamation of so many pre-existing ideas

  • Through no real fault of his own, Daniels can’t help but seem way behind the curve with his new Amazon Prime series, says Alan Sepinwall. "The show’s satiric portrait of a world in which the afterlife is just an app with pop-up ads and different subscription tiers plays like a longer, gentler Black Mirror story," says Alan Sepinwall. "Nathan’s dawning realization that his wealthy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) — who can video chat with him and even visit him in Lake View using virtual reality equipment — is a vapid monster with whom he will soon be doomed to spend eternity recalls the questions Forever asked about what happens when '’til death do us part' gets an unlimited extension. The bumbling artificial intelligence (Owen Daniels) that staffs Lake View is basically a creepier, much less helpful version of Janet from The Good Place. Nathan quickly grows frustrated to find this grinning A.I. around every corner; the sense of familiarity that Upload unwittingly evokes is just as omnipresent. Upload has some sharp points to make about income inequality. Nathan can’t afford Lake View himself, and winds up prisoner to the whims of his sponsor Ingrid, while our frequent glimpses of the world he left behind suggest the have-nots have less than ever. (The One Percent can not only get into these digital heavens, but are the only people left who can afford real food, as opposed to the kind made in a 3D printer.) Its commentary about all the ways we’ve allowed corporations’ long tentacles to wrap themselves around our lives (or afterlives) is reminiscent of half of Black Mirror (get ready to be reminded of the one about the perils of being able to rate humans on a five-star scale), but that doesn’t make it any less pertinent to our own increasingly dysfunctional world."

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    • Where Upload excels is in playing out its premise at length, and in depth: "The digital afterlife is laden with micropayments, whether it’s a thousand dollars for the swing of a virtual golf club or a dollar a minute to catch a cold, which apparently becomes desirable after a few decades of sustained algorithmic perfection," says Sam Adams. "It’s details like these that make Upload worth watching, and not its familiar, unengrossing plot and characters. It’s a running gag early on that the primary descriptor people use to describe Nathan is 'hot,' and while that’s not inaccurate, it also speaks to how little else the character has to distinguish him. There’s more to Nora (Andy Allo), the tech-support worker who serves as Nathan’s in-afterlife “angel”—basically a call-center staffer who visits paradise during office hours and then goes back to her studio apartment. But the arc of the season requires viewers to become invested in the budding romance between Nathan and his on-the-clock caretaker, and it’s difficult to work up any enthusiasm for fanning the sparks."
    • Upload should really be compared to Idiocracy, from Daniels' fellow King of the Hill co-creator Mike Judge: "It would be easy, then, to lump Greg Daniels' new Amazon comedy Upload in with Mike Schur's The Good Place and Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard's Forever. And I'm sure I will," says Daniel Fienberg. "When it comes to comparisons with comedies from former Daniels collaborators, though, it's possible that Upload actually has more in common with King of the Hill cohort Mike Judge's Idiocracy. Yes, Upload is focused on life after death and all of that high-minded stuff, but it's primarily a satire about late-stage capitalism, scathing and hilarious in some moments, sloppy and formless in others." He adds: "Narratively, there's a lot happening in Upload, which explains why the running time for episodes ranges from as long as 45 minutes — for the pilot, which has a daunting amount of backstory to convey — to as short as 23 minutes. Since the show is three or four different things at once, it isn't surprising that it does those different things with wildly different levels of effectiveness."
    • Upload is a much darker show when compared to The Good Place: "It’s difficult to talk about Greg Daniels’ new Amazon series Upload without invoking comparisons to the work of his old pal Michael Schur—specifically, The Good Place," says William Hughes. "Both shows come from alumni of some of the most popular sitcoms in recent TV history. Both traffic in a breed of dark absurdity that’s offset with moments of attempted human connection. And, most notably, both concern themselves primarily with the question of what happens to people after they die. But where The Good Place sets humanity’s ultimate fate in the lap of an inept, bumbling, and baffling cosmic bureaucracy, Upload puts the job of crafting our collective afterlives directly into human hands. It is, not surprisingly, an altogether darker and more hellish show."
    • Daniels stumbles with an overstuffed sitcom: "He’s going for something more involved here, oriented around romance and suspense over minute-by-minute laughs," says Charles Bramesco. "They both join awkwardly with Daniels’ satirical ambitions, which would also be better served by the classic half-hour ensemble format. He’s got some substantive ideas about inequality, technology and how one feeds the other; they only need time to be developed. The 10 episodes, some longer than 30 minutes and some shorter, hustle us through a linear plot pieced together from used-up components. But this is supposed to be heaven – wouldn’t you rather just hang out?"
    • Upload mostly feels like a thinned-out, 10-episode comedy sketch: "The main weakness of Upload is a contrived, sinister mystery that lurks underneath any make-your-own-paradise fun," says Steve Greene. "Rather than set up most of that espionage intrigue up front, the season parcels it out, wedged in between Nathan’s various escapades. Intended as a twisty motor to help make people care about Nathan’s 'plight,' it only ends up being a tonal weight that Upload can’t really shake."
    • Upload feels like a fusion of The Good Place and Black Mirror's "San Junipero"
    • Upload star Andy Allo on the difference between her show and The Good Place: "I feel like Upload differs in that it exists in both worlds, where you get to see Nora exist in New York, and it's simultaneous as opposed to a flashback kind of setup," she says. "And it's this digital world that's been built by humans to continue life after death. So it's different in that sense, and [also] Nora and Nathan really get to grow together, and you're getting to see these two people who exist in different worlds kind of come together, which I think is really cool."
    • How Upload's visual effects team created the show's version of 2033
    • Upload's cast has many familiar qualities: charismatic, diverse, good-looking but approachable, and led by actors who have the glow of indwelling stardom but aren’t widely known
    • Greg Daniels has been carrying around the idea for Upload for 30 years: "It started when I was a writer on Saturday Night Live," he says. "I was walking around New York trying to think of sketch ideas. And I was looking at some advertising in an electronics store in Midtown about CD players. I was just sort of thinking about digitizing things versus analog, and what would be the ultimate thing you could digitize? What if you could digitize your own mind?" Needless to say, this concept was ill-fitting for a Jon Lovitz sketch, so Daniels kept the idea in his back pocket and revisited it when he could."
    • Upload was pitched as a philosophical romantic comedy science fiction mystery thriller: "o me, some of my favorite moments are like sci-fi horror moments, almost," says Daniels. "When I pitched it, I pitched it as a philosophical romantic comedy science fiction mystery thriller. I was really pitching it with a lot of genres. I feel like, in this world of so many television shows, if you want somebody to commit to your show and watch it the whole way through, it's got to really deliver a lot of stuff. That's what I was thinking when I was doing the show. I don't know if it's true, but that's what I was feeling."
    • Upload took a long time to get made because of Daniels' inexperience with visual effects: "It reminds me of animation — but it's more expensive," cracks the King of the Hill co-creator. "Sometimes it’s hard in Hollywood to do something different than what you’ve done in the past. I was pretty insistent that I thought this should be very cinematic and have a lot of different tones in it."
    • Daniels hasn't watched The Good Place, but he gets the comparisons with Upload: The Good Place creator Michael Schur created Parks and Recreation with Daniels and also worked with him on The Office. But Daniels has never seen Schur's show. “So, the funny thing is I had dinner with Mike in 2016,” Daniels recalls. “And he was like, ‘How’s it going with your project?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, you know, I just turned in the first draft.’ And he says, ‘Oh, I just wrote something too.’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, we ought to exchange it and read it.’ And we never did. Then later, when I realized he’d done The Good Place? Oy vey.”

    TOPICS: Upload, Amazon, The Good Place, Andy Allo, Greg Daniels, Robbie Amell




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