In the not too distant future, entrepreneurial coder Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is living his best life. He has a beautiful rich (albeit clingy) rich girlfriend (Allegra Edwards) and he’s working on an app with his partner that will make his fortune. But when his self-driving car crashes, his life takes an unexpected turn – into the digital afterlife paid for by his girlfriend. As Nathan struggles to adjust to his second life, he’s helped by his customer support angel Nora (Andy Allo) but it soon becomes clear that what happened to Nathan’s car was something a little more sinister than a simple, impossible accident.
It’s heavily promoted as being from Greg Daniels, the showrunner behind “The Office” or “Parks and Rec” (although they’re conspicuously not mentioning “Space Force”) but “Upload” doesn’t really share much DNA with those two sitcoms. It has more in common with “Space Force” but benefits from a stronger, more clearly defined story and better-developed characters. Unlike either “The Office” or “Parks And Recreation”, “Upload” isn’t an out and out comedy. There are comedic elements and comedy characters for sure, but it’s primarily a sci-fi mystery satire which extrapolates everything that’s happening in online technology and retail right now to its logical (inevitable) conclusion. It’s “Devs” meets “The Good Place”, with just a dash of “Black Mirror”.
The hyper-consumerized world in which the characters live casts a sharply critical eye at the trend for free to start applications which lure in unwary users then ramp up the microtransactions. “Upload” is cleverly constructed to keep the main narrative threads in the foreground while in the background, the jokes fly thick and fast as it underlines the commercial approach as societal microaggressions. There are laughs, drama and even some deeply poignant moments and it does a far better job than “Space Force” of balancing these ingredients and while the series ends unresolved, we at least have the reassurance that it’s been renewed for a second series.
The cast is great and while this blog has never been particularly fond of (or kind to) the Amell acting dynasty, even I have to admit that Robbie Amell is really, really great here. There’s a relaxed warmth to his performance that I haven’t seen him deliver before and it transforms him from the usual flavourless beefcake to a character who feels authentically flesh and blood, somewhat ironic given he spends the majority of the series as a complex digital algorithm.
It’s in Andy Allo, though, that “Upload” finds its MVP and an apparently endless supply of charm. She’s utterly magnetic as the tender-hearted Nora who finds herself torn between life and love in both the real world and the digital environment of Lakeview. There’s a terrific supporting cast too, with Allegra Edwards impressing in the thankless role of Nathan’s vain and superficial girlfriend, while Zainab Johnson and Kevin Bigley provide most of the out and out laughs in the real and virtual world as best friends to Nora and Nathan respectively.
A winning mixture of comedy, drama, wry satirical socio-economic observation and suspense, “Upload” also benefits from not outstaying its welcome. There are only ten episodes and with the exception of the forty-five-minute first episode each weigh in at thirty minutes or less meaning you can easily binge this in a couple of evenings although you may want to ration it out to savour because this is one series that will leave you wanting more. It may be more than a year before we get to see that second series (thanks a lot, Covid-19) but there’s enough food for thought here that you’ll have plenty to ponder between now and then. Just remember not to waste your data allow…