Imagine if the afterlife was basically a virtual reality 5-star resort; okay, now imagine that that's the premise of a TV show and it's supposed to be a comedy. Sounds like it could be worth a shot, right? Unfortunately for Upload, it bills itself as a comedy, but it's anything but. I had such high hopes given that this was another Greg Daniels (you know the guy who also created Parks and Recreation, The Office, and King of the Hill), but sadly this one was a complete comedic miss.
In the first episode, we are introduced to the world and a guy, Nathan, a rather shallow and careless slacker, who's being controlled by his awful self-absorbed girlfriend. This controlling just gets worse when she strong-arms him into uploading his consciousness into a "heaven program" instead of undergoing a potentially life-saving operation. Since she's the one paying the bills for this pricey afterlife experience, his "eternity" is ruled by a social-climbing, looks-obsessed caricature of a socialite. She strong-arms him out of discussing this with his family, who she constantly pulls him away from. It's frustrating to watch and honestly? I was hoping that he would end it all in the afterlife to get out of that abusive relationship. Sadly, he did not, and we're subjected to nine more episodes of her controlling Nathan, who has no say in anything because if he tells her no, she deletes him. Does any of that sound funny to you? Yeah, me neither. And it wasn't.
Upload Shows the Future, Just Not a Believable One
One of my many complaints about the show is in their product placement. If you want to put an ad buy into a show, okay. I mean, the Reese's Pieces in ET are iconic and not an annoying thing that takes you out of the story, which is proof that product placement can be done effectively, so why are all the product placements in Upload so different? I think it's the constant barrage of products that take you out of a story that's hard to get into anyway. In the first episode alone, there's a pile of Amazon prime packages, Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Donuts, an X-box controller, annoying human versions of a pop-up ad for Orbit gum. It's frankly exhausting to watch. Imagine if the commercials in the pilot of Six Feet Under were for real products you see every day, or if the ad-buddies in Maniac were for McDonald's and 5 Gum. Beyond irritating, no? You pay for streaming, not for commercials.
But Upload's ad buys don't stop there, the product placement only gets worse in subsequent episodes: we add Zappos, Nos, and Penn to the stack of annoying placements that take you out of the story. They're not really supposed to do that; ad placements are supposed to add to the story while creating a more realistic world for the show and hopefully subliminally persuade you to want the product. Is this Amazon's way of paying for their very expensive Prime original shows? Will we start to see more product placement in streaming series since there's no commercials or ads on the sites?
[Editor's Note: A representative from Amazon Studios reached out to the review's author after it went live to clarify that there were no paid product placements in the series.]
If this is any indication of the future, I'd rather live in the past. The show's view of the near future, 2033 to be exact, is a view that I would absolutely expect from a company like Amazon. It shares a similarity with Westworld in that both shows depict a future run and essentially ruled by massive tech companies, however, where Upload gets it wrong though is that it's extrapolated too far to have that much visible change in just thirteen years. Yes, I know this may be a picky complaint, but it really does take me out of a story that is hard to get into, to begin with – and that's a problem. Will the world change in thirteen years? You bet, but there's no way we'll have foolproof self-driving cars you can tether to each other and have sex in whilst you're being driven; no way afterlife and cloning programs will be that widespread; no way the world looks that different in that little of time – at least not like that.
When the show's story and characters aren't capturing enough to completely suck the viewer in, the tiniest little things can pull you out of the story. That's my big complaint with Upload; I know there's a murder mystery plot, but since it wasn't introduced until nearly the end of episode 3, I wasn't sucked in enough to care about finishing out this story. The very idea of watching another seven episodes of this makes me want to spend my time doing something productive, like staring at a wall, talking politics with my parents, or even paying off my debt to Tom Nook in Animal Crossing.
Quarantine Re-Watch Syndrome Has Become a Legitimate Thing
Maybe I'm suffering from a case of "quarantine re-watch syndrome" where I just find new shows unfulfilling and choose to watch the shows I know I like and am comfortable with for like the 400th time, but I've had a hard time getting into new content lately. I'm not sure if it's because when everything around us is chaos, we want something we know we love, or that the new content is actually lacking quality. Whichever the case, Upload is lackluster and does not live up to the comedy legacy that was expected given the creative team.
At the end of the day, we watch television as an escape from the world around us. As we see giant corporations take over now more than ever, the last thing I want to watch is a humorless show that depicts this as the given future. It just starts to feel like propaganda, especially coming from our tech overlord, Amazon. Maybe this is a case of bad timing release wise, maybe it's a case of me wanting the warm fuzzies from my shows, but I did not enjoy this. It may get a little better as time goes on, but I have a feeling this one will chalk its losses up to current events and the show will be quietly buried.
I predict the forecast of shows will start to shift away from things about the future and focus more on uplifting stories about teamwork and togetherness. It may sound a little hokey, but I think what we need in the near future are nice stories with a happy ending instead of bleak stories filled with characters that don't have likable or redeemable qualities until the final few episodes. The world looks a little different these days, and it's already sunk into our shows as it will continue to, at many different levels. Upload may have been released now, but it feels like it was made for an audience and market that no longer exists.