The Digital Divide
Series Review: “Upload”
Think ‘The Good Place’ meets ‘Defending Your Life’ with a ‘Heaven Can Wait’ chaser, and you’ve got ‘Upload’. Snuggle up with your Avatar and enjoy the virtual ride.
The Office and Parks and Recreation creator, Greg Daniels may have another hit on his hands with the entertaining and visually impressive Upload, a show that wonders aloud if Death can be half as good as it’s cracked up to be. That is, if you’re one of the lucky few with the bucks (or the connections) to land a coveted spot in one of the swankiest afterlife communities in the not so distant future, a paradise off Earth called Lakeview. Upload takes place in three concurrent settings: New York City, Los Angeles, and the virtual reality playground that is Lakeview (whose magnificent exteriors were actually filmed in New Paltz, NY at the illustrious and historic Mohonk Mountain House.)
In L.A., the handsome and conceited Nathan Brown, together with his best friend and business partner Jamie, is about to land the deal of a lifetime. They have developed a freemium version of the world’s most popular digital self-uploading technology, made famous by a company called Horizen, whose Lakeview afterlife pleasure-world promises a level of joy and happiness never attained in human life. Nathan (played by Robbie Amell) is halfheartedly involved with Ingrid Kannerman, a vapid and entitled young woman whose obsession with him knows no earthly bounds. Indeed, when Nathan is mortally wounded in a freak self-driving car accident, Ingrid shows up at the hospital in a flash, insisting he’s about to die and beseeching him to opt-in to an upload to the Horizen database, where his consciousness will hop on to her family plan for all eternity. Thus does Nathan find himself the newest guest at Lakeview, where he realizes very soon that he has become, quite literally, Ingrid’s digital property. . . FOREVER. Across the country in New York City, the Horizen customer service department is an outsourced sweatshop where underpaid shift workers are assigned a number of Lakeview guests, maintaining their memory files and digital integrity, and catering to their every need. The residents at Lakeview know them as Angels. Nathan’s Angel is one Nora Antony, played smartly by Cameroonian-American singer-songwriter, guitarist and actress, Andy Allo. As Nora helps Nathan adjust to his new life, three things begin to unfold: 1. Nathan is becoming a better man in virtual reality than real reality; 2. The details of Nathan’s death are beginning to reveal a shady mystery; 3. Nora and Nathan are becoming digitally star-crossed lovers in an existential, zero sum game. Was Nathan murdered? If so, is Ingrid complicit? Is there a future for Nathan and Nora? Does Future even exist post-upload?
Upload is being compared to the hit TV show The Good Place (starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell) for obvious reasons, although in message and tone, I hearken back to two memorable films about dying and the afterlife: Defending Your Life (starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep) and Heaven Can Wait (starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie). In the former, we are similarly introduced to a multi-level Heaven (of sorts) whose socio-economic class system and subsequent phenomenon of reincarnation is dictated not by material assets on Earth but rather by the quality of the Soul during a person’s lifetime. In Heaven Can Wait (a wonderful remake of the earlier film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan) Warren Beatty’s character is taken too soon up to Heaven, by a guardian angel who didn’t want him to suffer a painful death. Similarly, in Upload we become increasingly suspicious about the very inevitability of Nathan’s demise at the hospital before his abrupt upload.
In all these vehicles, and mixed with the very funny bits and visually rich effects of Upload, the message seems to be that Death may indeed be a final frontier, one in which the failures of a life can be put right in the afterlife. And, in the case of Lakeview, that some afterlives are just better than others. Hey, you pay for what you get.
Upload is presently streaming on Amazon Prime. A second season has already been approved, with filming due to begin once the Coronavirus Pandemic allows.
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