What is the reward for a life well lived?
According to a virtual reality company called Horizon, it’s an afterlife that’s like an extended Florida leisure resort. Some time in the future when a person dies, they can become an ‘upload’, where their consciousness can live on. This is showrunner Greg Daniels’ premise for a brand new series on Amazon Prime.
Daniels’ hero is Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), a 30ish gaming programmer who meets an untimely death and thereby becomes our avatar in the afterlife. Nathan is vain, confident and very pissed off to have lost his entitled life. Amell’s performance is reminiscent of Star Trek’s Chris Pine, an ego driven but likeable hero who is going to have to acquire wisdom in order to come to terms with his fate.
Even with the 10-star facilities in ‘Heaven’, it’s not surprising that the newly dead take time to adjust and some never adjust at all. If this is all there is for eternity, it’s quite possible to blow out in an existential meltdown, where you just want to escape either by trying to return back or trying to kill yourself, again. There is a Truman Show aspect to the premise, that casts sidelong glances at the nature of freedom, privacy and consciousness, but it’s mostly played for laughs and a satisfying story arc.
As expected from the award-winning writer who brought us The Office (US), it’s funny, slick and full of well observed details. Daniels has done an impeccable job of creating this futuristic world. It’s seamless and within that structure he has a lot of fun with the rules.
What he does best is the beautifully observed comic situations between people, in the Seinfeld (and The Office) mode of subtle power play and minutiae. Daniels also introduces a thriller/mystery thread in episode two where questions are raised about the real circumstances of Nathan’s death.
The two female co-stars are excellent. Ingrid is the domineering girlfriend played by Allegra Edwards in the vein of great classic Hollywood comedies, particularly reminiscent of Jean Hagen as the overbearing Lina Lamont in Singing in the Rain. Nora Anthony (Andy Allo) is the Horizon employee, bullied by her awful boss (shades of The Office again here). As Nathan’s designated customer service ‘Angel’, Nora is responsible for helping him adjust to his new afterlife, with plenty of fun opportunities for a twist in the ‘boy meets girl’ scenario.
According to an interview with BT TV, Daniels first thought of the idea for Upload when he worked as a writer on Saturday Night Live in the late 1980s.
“I was walking through New York City trying to think of ideas for SNL. I saw an electronics store that was advertising CD players and the notion of switching everything from analogue to digital got me thinking. I thought ‘what’s the ultimate expression of that?’ and it’s if you could digitise your whole self, and your personalities and your memories. What would that be like? Then I thought, ‘Well, that will allow human beings to create their own heaven’ in a sense. I thought it was a cool idea.”
‘This is the first day of the rest of your afterlife’, says the tag line, and Daniels explains why he wanted to include a thread of social issues in the story mix to bring a satirical perspective.
“The thing that’s so interesting to me about the notion of a man-made afterlife is that it would be just as unfair as the current life we have, and it would have some of the same problems of greed and the general income inequality.”
Social media gets a side-swipe and among the many inventions that Daniels came up with is a hilarious dating app.
“I just thought that was the craziest thing, if you could combine Tinder with Uber, people would be having one-night stands and then rating each other like Uber drivers. Then it comes out that China is already doing a social rating app… The only thing that hasn’t been invented is the upload machine, but scientists are working on it.”
Upload streams on Amazon Prime from May 1, 2020