‘Upload’ poses more philosophical questions than it answers

Category: Television

While walking around NY, Greg Daniels (The OfficeParks and Recreation) had an “aha” moment for a three-minute Saturday Night Live sketch for Dana Kirby in the late 1980s. “If you’d be stored on a computer, we could program a virtual reality afterlife,” said Daniels at our virtual press conference held on April 21, 2020. “It would mean that human beings can actually create our own idea of what an afterlife would be, but it would have all the same flaws of our human society because in a sense we’re just re-creating our human society.” Since then he had been mulling over the idea to make a go of it in print form until he decided on a 10-episode streaming show format in 2013.

On May 1, 2020, Daniel’s passion project  – three decades in the making  – debuted on Amazon Prime Video. Upload, pitched as “a philosophical romantic-comedy/science fiction/murder mystery,” takes place in 2033.

Nathan (Robbie Amell) was a 27-year-old game designer who took his charmed life for granted before he was fatally injured in a self-driving car crash. While being rushed to the operating room, he had to make a split-second decision either to die the old-fashioned way from a punctured lung or to be uploaded to a plush digital hereafter. Shortly after being scanned, Nathan finds himself in a luxurious virtual utopia, known for its TV ad “You did well – You deserve Lakeview.” His first day of the rest of his afterlife is crowded with shocks, surprises, and things to learn and unlearn. Now that he’s Ingrid’s (Allegra Edwards) kept man, his every move is observed and controlled by his privileged and entitled girlfriend and he’s stripped of his independence and critical faculties. His health and looks are intact, all right, but he’s in a bad place emotionally and mentally.

Nora (Andy Allo) is a customer service representative at Horizen, the company that manages the Lakeview domain and its digitized residents, known as uploads. The reps are called angels and they act as concierge/navigator of this brave new world. It’s a perfect job for a people-pleaser like Nora, but she is uncomfortable selling products to her uploads to get ahead. Clearly rampant capitalism perpetuates the division between the haves and have-nots even in Horizen’s utopia. Nora finds Nathan charming and bends over backward to assist him in assimilating into this unexpectedly imperfect heaven by accepting the unacceptable. Nora also starts restoring his damaged memory files and digging deeper into his questionable “accidental death.”

Daniels had evidently done his homework; Upload presents some foreseeable future technology and problems coming down the pike. His satire on commercialism, social inequality, loss of privacy, and powerlessness before giant data mining companies is spot-on. The devil is in the details. So you can imagine my surprise when he concluded the virtual press conference by saying “My hope is that Amazon is so happy with the show that they actually try to do the technology and that I get a free upload at the end for me – that’s what I’m looking for at the end of this experience.” Amazon has already ventured into the health care business by acquiring Health Navigator and PillPack in the last few years. I have no doubt they are inching forward toward the grand scheme of digital life extension. It’s no longer a matter of if but when Daniels’ free upload would be granted.

I went to a Catholic school growing up and was under the impression that heaven is the eternal peaceful home where only the good people get to go. Also I vaguely remember that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom. So I can’t help wondering if the digital hereafter might be for the overlords to have their cake and eat it too. I guess this shouldn’t disturb me because I am definitely moving on to my next life when I die; living death certainly does not appeal to me. I just hope I would be reincarnated into a brighter human future way beyond this surveillance capitalism society. I need to get off the grid first, don’t I?

All 10 episodes of Upload are now available on Amazon Prime Video.

About the Author

Meg Mimura is a TV critic who actually watches shows zealously in search of thought-provoking and paradigm shifting human drama worth our precious time. She is a member of Television Critics Association. Follow her on Twitter.