REVIEW: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO VIEW: AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Fans still mourning the recent passing of NBC’s extraordinary The Good Place might find some solace for a while in Amazon Prime’s Upload. This new ten-episode comedy/drama may first appear to be astonishingly derivative of Michael Shur’s thoughtful, mind-bending sitcom in that it deals with the concept of ‘the afterlife’ and how those who find their way to it deal with their new surroundings and the ramifications of an eternal existence beyond the grave. But in fairness, Upload, created by Greg Daniels whose own comedy CV is no slouch (he’s worked on the likes of Seinfeld, Parks and Recreation, and even The Simpsons) has been ‘in development’ for several years so any resemblance to The Good Place, although unfortunate, certainly isn’t intentional, and it quickly becomes apparent that although both shows seem to share the same creative DNA they are really quite different beasts.
Robbie Amell (best-known from his roles in CW shows like the short-lived Tomorrow People reboot and Arrow) plays Nathan Brown, an unfeasibly hunky computer programmer whose life is brought to an untimely end when his driverless car smashes into the back of a stationary vehicle. But death is no longer the end and Nathan’s extravagant girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) arranges for his consciousness to be uploaded into a digital afterlife environment known as Lake View, a paradise of luxury living and wide-open spaces. Nathan’s progress is monitored in the ‘real world’ by his ‘angel’ (technical supervisor) Nora (Andy Allo) who helps him adjust to his new circumstances by occasionally joining him in Lake View via a VR headset. But Nathan is troubled by missing memories and he struggles to come to terms with his own death even as he tries to cope with the constant presence of Ingrid in his afterlife and the nagging suspicion that his death wasn’t a complete accident.
Upload plays with vaguely similar concepts to The Good Place but as it develops it becomes a very different show. Its humour is a little more measured and generally less relentless and outrageous than Shur’s series and its themes tend to be more romantic and conspiratorial rather than the often-whimsical, provocative and existential material The Good Place handled so deftly. The concept of a ‘digital afterlife’ is fairly well-established in Upload’s near-future even if it brings with it many of the prejudices and inequalities we might have hoped to leave behind in the real world. Early episodes play nicely with the ‘fish out of water’ trope as Nathan explores his new world but the show spends as much time back in the ‘real’ world as Ingrid refuses to give up on her relationship with Nathan even as his ‘angel’ Nora, a frustrated singleton, finds herself increasingly drawn to a man who isn’t really alive. Some of the comedy is broad-brush stuff but there are some inspired and startling visuals in Nathan’s constantly-surprising new environment and supporting characters like his new ‘best friend’ Luke (Kevin Bigley) and Dylan (Rhys Slack), dead for seven years but still trapped in an eleven-year-old body and desperate to be allowed to ‘grow up’ provide the bulk of the belly-laughs. The weak link here, unfortunately, is Amell as Nathan. He’s largely the straight man, reactive rather than proactive and his attempts at comedy are a little awkward and self-conscious and he’s usually the least interesting character in any scene which tends to undermine the show when he’s supposed to be the one supporting and powering the storyline.
By the time we reach episode nine Upload has started to dial down the broader comedy as it focuses on the budding Nathan/Nora romance and the gradual uncovering of the truth behind the former’s death. A cliffhanger ending leaves the story unresolved and Nathan joined in the afterlife by the one person he probably doesn’t want at his side. Upload is pleasant, often charming stuff and its ten episodes – apart from the 45-minute pilot they all run to around 25 minutes – are easily-digestible and they never outstay their welcome. But The Good Place casts a long shadow and even though the two shows are ultimately markedly different, the unavoidable similarities can’t prevent Upload feeling like the less mannered, starchier and less enthusiastic relation. As afterlife comedies go, Upload will kill some time but nothing much more.