Travis Leamons // Film Critic
What are the odds that the creators of PARKS AND RECREATION would each go on to create a different series set in the afterlife? Now that Michael Schur’s THE GOOD PLACE has ended its run, Greg Daniels gives us UPLOAD – a comedy about “digital life extension.” Only there’s a glitch.
Makes sense. Since DLE is created by us humans, there’s no way for the virtual heaven to be flawless right out of the box. Just ask Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), the latest resident of Horizon’s Lakeview.
Picture the world 13 years from now: It’s 2033, and it is possible to digitize and upload an individual consciousness into a program that the deceased inhabits more or less like life. The living can communicate with those uploaded and vice versa through a smartphone device that magically appears in that L-shape running between the caller’s thumb and forefinger. You can also do virtual reality if you’ve got the goggles.
Lakeview is the capitalist’s version of what heaven should be. Residents stay at a rustic resort – like a Robert Frost poem displayed on a Kindle – where rooms include digital minibars and swiping left offers such options as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. But just like real life, those drinks and eats come at a premium price tag. If you are a billionaire like David Choak (William B. Davis – THE X-FILES’ Cigarette Smoking Man), this isn’t an issue. There are residents of Lakeview, though, that can’t afford such comforts.
Before transitioning to his virtual afterlife, Nathan was a web developer in Los Angeles designing an autonomous version than those offered by the conglomerates. Merged companies like Panera Facebook Aeon, which sounds as if Greg Daniels created from Mad Libs. It provides a Las Vegas-stylized celestial experience. A heavenly Sin City, if you will.
Right before his cheaper version was about to go big-time, Nathan’s self-driving car rams into a stationary semi-truck. Strapped to a gurney, his rich, spoiled, teary-eyed girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) by his side, Nathan comes to the proverbial fork in the road moment inside a hospital. Go to the OR and risk dying during surgery or have his brain uploaded to Lakeview while his human body goes in the freezer? Without hesitation, Ingrid whips out the family plastic faster than a barista taking coffee orders and makes the decision. Goodbye, Earth. Hello, Lakeview.
Now the fun really begins.
UPLOAD is a high-concept fantasy comedy that doesn’t set out to make Lakeview an all-encompassing virtual wonderland. Rather than spend time building out Nathan’s new world and have him play, Greg Daniels treats our protagonist’s arrival to Lakeview as if it’s the first day at a new school. Everything is strange. Helping him transition is Nora (Andy Allo, who is such a delight), his “angel,” or customer service rep. Nora’s job is to counsel her upload assignments, helping them integrate, and maybe steer them into buying Horizon’s latest commercial promotion, like Gordita Crunches offered by Nokia Taco Bell.
What neither Nora and Nathan counted on was falling for each other. This makes things complicated, as Ingrid is still very much a part of Nathan’s life, even in death. She’s also paying for his virtual reality with daddy’s checkbook. No more payments mean no more Nathan.
Along with the romantic triangle is the mystery surrounding Nathan’s premature demise, and why some of his memories were corrupted before going to cyber-heaven.
A little romance, a little mystery, and heaping spoonful of absurdist humor help to compliment the fantasy. That’s UPLOAD. Its premise draws you in, and you want to stick around to see if it’s that far-fetched. (Could Daniels’ vision of the afterlife become a reality? The future is already being corporatized, and our consciousness could be next.)
The series also doesn’t sugarcoat living a virtual reality. The haves and have-nots persist, even at a place like Lakeview. Beyond in-app purchases, which must be paid with real money, are those residents that have to make do without such amenities. When Nathan is introduced to the two-gigs – the residents that only have a monthly 2 GB data plan – it is a dispiriting revelation. Their brief appearances bring reality to a show about how being immortal can be great if you can afford it.
The disparity gap notwithstanding, the ten episodes that comprise UPLOAD’s first season is worth using your data plan to stream. It’s fun and entertaining and gives us the wonderful Andy Allo. Sure, it may not be THE GOOD PLACE. That’s fine. I don’t give a “fork.”
UPLOAD is now on Amazon.