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Casual viewers not well-versed in the behind-the-camera goings-on of the industry, are likely still somewhat familiar with the name, Greg Daniels. Mr. Daniels is the creator behind some of the biggest comedy series of the last two decades. His body of work includes the hit NBC TV show ‘The Office,’ as well as ‘Parks and Recreation,’ and the next Steve Carell-starring sitcom, ‘Space Force,’ whose second season also recently aired over on Netflix. Greg Daniels is arguably the master of modern situational comedy. And his most recent release, Amazon’s ‘Upload,’ is no exception.
‘Upload’ is set in a world in the near future, not entirely distant or unrecognizable from our own – but in many ways eerily similar. In this hypothetical future, mankind has harnessed the power of technology to the point that we can now evade death. Able to translate our consciousness into computable data and upload it to, essentially “the cloud,” humans can now live out their afterlife in a completely simulated virtual reality. Sounds kind of nice, and is also an interesting premise for a comedy.
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Utilizing this unique opportunity, the show is filled with gags such as glitches that cause people to literally “drop off the map” or lower their graphics resolution to that of a blocky Minecraft character. It also continuously pokes fun at Big Tech and corporations, with fun, little humorous easter eggs for the audience such as “PaneraTok,” which mocks the routine practice of companies merging with and consuming each other to monopolize. See, Disney, T-Mobile, Amazon (though you’ll never hear this Amazon original admit it).
It also touches on economic inequality, and how these big corporations are contributing to the disparity, such as targeting specific communities over others, establishing socioeconomic membership tiers, and exploitation of human employees and clients. For example, in the afterlife virtual reality, the show takes place in, “Lakeview,” there are different payment plan options. Those at the top, live in a lavish, luxurious lakeside hotel complete with full catering, and the poor suckers at the bottom live in what almost appear to be jail cells below the hotel, with pipes streaming through their ceilings, and slop served for every meal. Money also corresponds to the amount of data you are allowed to utilize as a simulated being, meaning if you can’t afford to keep paying for use of your avatar, you’re frozen. Literally.
While this may not seem very funny on paper, offering a cynical view of what we are in store for with unfettered Capitalism, I promise ‘Upload’ delivers as a comedy. It elicits laughter. Even if gags and offbeat comedy aren’t your bread and butter, the writing is also clever. To be frank, having also recently watched the newly-released second season of Greg Daniels’s ‘Space Force,’ which also stars one Owen Daniels, ‘Upload’ actually made me laugh more. It also kept me thoroughly entertained and amused throughout the span of its seven episodes (and the ten belonging to the season prior), something that I unfortunately cannot also say about the sitcom based on the sixth independent U.S. military branch. ‘Upload’ also delivers on raunchy comedy in a way that doesn’t feel forced or contrived, but rather comes about naturally through human behavior, which has interesting and hilarious ramifications in a virtual reality monitored 24/7 by human IT.
‘Upload’ – The Acting
Typically, sitcoms can have very animated or cartoonish acting, with characters often being portrayed more like plot devices than people. However, ‘Upload’ manages to circumvent this shortcoming, due to its incredibly talented cast. Robbie Amell, a cousin to the emerald archer, Stephen Amell, leads the show as Nathan Brown, a tech genius who was tragically killed in an automated car accident and involuntarily uploaded to Lakeview by his girlfriend, played by Allegra Edwards. Once in Lakeview, he meets his personal IT assistant (job title: angel), who is a real, living person projecting into the simulation with VR goggles to help him acclimate to life in the afterlife.
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This character, played by musician, Andy Allo, goes on to become part of a very complicated love triangle between Nate and his clingy, overprotective, borderline-crazy girlfriend, who he actually wanted to dump prior to her saving his life and sustaining his payments while in Lakeview. Even with playing such an overly-dramatic character like Ingrid Kannerman, Allegra Edwards’s performance never takes you out of a scene, fully selling the portrayal of a woman whose toxic family of rich tech tycoons has shaped her into this.
In Lakeview, Nathan also meets a fellow deceased person who would go on to become his best buddy, virtual or not. This friend is found in the lovable upload of Luke, a former veteran played by Kevin Bigley. While he serves as the comedic relief in this comedic series, he once again never feels shallow, and never comes off as too wacky or over-the-top, with Mr. Bigley delivering some truly nuanced scenes as such a goofball character. The relationship between Luke and his IT guardian angel, Aleesha, played by Zainab Johnson, has also been blossoming over the past two seasons, and they are taking their sweet time developing this story. I’m pretty sure the two are destined to end up together, I totally ship them, but all good things take time, and ‘Upload’ is taking special care to not jump the shark (as so many comedies do) when it comes to the shipping of these two characters.
Furthermore, ‘Space Force’ actor, Owen Daniels (who also appeared in ‘The Office’), son to showrunner Greg Daniels, serves as one of the most dynamic actors in the entire series. His character, labeled “AI Guy,” is the artificial caretaker of Lakeview and its residents and their needs, but also serves as the template for all of the caretaking and assisting staff at the hotel, with every single concierge, attendant, and bellboy being a carbon copy of himself. However, in season two, Owen Daniels gets to take on the role of someone living in the real world, and it’s a good one.
Mind uploading is something that has been debated, considered, and warned about for decades. It is the pretty self-explanatory, theoretical process of extending human life by uploading our consciousness into some kind of computer. One of the biggest proponents and advocates of this potential cheat code to death, is Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is an inventor, who has worked on text-to-speech technologies, optical character recognition technologies, and speech recognition technologies. He also served as Director of Engineering for Google. Mind uploading is a form of transhumanism, which is a movement advocating for the synthesis of advanced technologies into the human condition in order to achieve greater longevity and cognitive function.
Transhumanism also leaves open the possibility that mankind is, in a sense, the caterpillar stage or precursor to some greater civilization, one that may perhaps be comprised of robots, or at least cyborgs – and that technology is the avenue to that future. The show essentially serves as a sort of case study, a “what if” this technology was possible? Would it be ideal? Would we still be human if we can perpetually sustain our otherwise finite existence via virtual reality? This Amazon original series does an excellent job exploring the complex consequences of such a philosophical movement (transhumanism), with companies exploiting the data mined from the very uploaded people they claim to care for. Sound familiar? Please see Google and Facebook’s data mining controversies.
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None of us truly understood the value of accepting those “cookies” and terms, handing over our personal data to companies that seek to use those findings to better their ability to advertise and make more money. Shows like ‘Upload,’ which explore and dissect theoretical concepts all too relevant to our current world, help us to better understand the reality in which we all live, whether it’s a simulation or not – and they do it with one of the most potent tools known to man, comedy.
Cast: Robbie Amell, Andy Allo, Allegra Edwards, Zainab Johnson, Kevin Bigley, Owen Daniels
Crew: Greg Daniels, Howard Klein, Arielle Boisvert, Yael Green
By Connor Garvin
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Connor Garvin has been a writer for as long as he can remember. Writing has enabled him to distill the thoughts within his own head, as well as allowed him to have those same thoughts heard. Connor is a screenwriter, and filmmaker more generally, with a focus on television. He also believes that real change only occurs if everyone is heard, and is therefore a proud champion of the arts, and a kindred spirit to The Hollywood Insider and its values.