Watching the wickedly funny, brain-bending and immersive satirical comedy/drama Amazon Prime Video series “Upload,” one can’t help but draw parallels to the recently concluded NBC sitcom “The Good Place,” what with the afterlife setting and the avatars that look and sound just like real people and the philosophical/spiritual questions.
This show will blow your mind. In a good way. (In addition to “The Good Place,” there are echoes of the “San Junipero” episode of “Black Mirror,” the supernatural romance/mystery “Ghost” and even a hint of the Albert Brooks film “Defending Your Life.”)
Created by Greg Daniels (“The Office,” “Parks and Recreation”), “Upload” takes place in a near future (the year 2033) where self-driving cars dominate the highways; computer programs store all your experiences, as seen from your point of view, and most astonishing of all, you can upload your consciousness into an incredibly realistic afterlife where you have the same personality, the same memories, the same wishes and hopes and dreams you had in the real world. It’s just that you’re an avatar, while your actual body is back on Earth, preserved in ice in case scientists develop the technology that would allow you to return to the real world.
Here’s the other cool albeit problematic thing: While you’re in the afterlife, you can interact with your living loved ones. They can see you; you can see them. And if your romantic partner dons a bulky “Sex Suit,” the two of you can even hook up and it feels just like the real thing.
Episode 1 of “Upload” opens with a faux streaming ad for “Lake View by Horizon,” one of the premium upscale options for the afterlife. As the camera lingers on an idyllic lakefront resort nestled in lush surroundings, a soothing voice-over guide says, “What is the reward for a life well-lived? The most perfect natural beauty that man can design. The best days of your life could be after it’s over. You did well. You deserve Lake View by Horizon.”
Meet Nathan (Robbie Amell). He’s a strikingly handsome, total bro of a dude, who works as a coder and loves to mention he did a little modeling while in college. Nathan is sailing through life with with his equally gorgeous and self-absorbed girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) when BAM! He’s in a horrific car crash, and he faces a choice: Either let nature take its course and die the old-fashioned way or select the upload option and begin his new (after) life. Egged on by Ingrid, Nathan chooses to be transported to Lake View. The following morning, he awakens and feels healthy and alert and alive; it’s just that like everyone else at the resort, he’s dead.
Andy Allo gives a heart-melting performance as Nora, who works as an “angel” for the Horizon corporation, meaning she dons a headset and monitors the afterlife activities of dozens of clients, including Nathan. If they’re in need of any kind of advice or guidance, all they have to do is say “Angel!” and just like that, Nora (actually Nora’s avatar) will appear in front of them, ready to help. From the moment Nora sets virtual eyes on Nathan, there’s a connection, which grows deeper and more complicated as the story develops.
If you’re going to be in a Greg Daniels show, you have to be able to handle rapid-fire, crackling-good dialogue. Amell, Edwards, Allo and the ensemble cast are more than up to the task. A sequence in which Nathan watches his own funeral, which Ingrid has turned into a posh event complete with swag bags for the attendees to take home, is an exercise in perfectly executed dark comedy.
Other subplots have an almost existential, melancholy bent, as when an 11-year-old Lake View resident who has remained 11 for the last half-dozen years is unable to reach his best friend Breck, who’s now 18 and doesn’t have anything in common with a kid. There’s also the matter of how money matters as much if not more in the afterlife. While the wealthy at Lake View enjoy posh rooms, gourmet feasts, relaxing spa days, yoga classes and days on the golf course, the poorest residents, known as “Two Gigs” because they have just two gigabytes every month and will literally freeze up when the supply is gone, are living in prison-like conditions. And in one of the most thought-provoking storylines, Nora wants her gravely ill father (Chris Williams) to consider afterlife at Lake View, but her mother has passed away in the “traditional” manner and her father believes she’s in heaven and the only way he’ll see her again is if he dies and takes his chances on what’s next.
There’s a lot of heavy stuff at play here, but it’s all handled with a deft touch. Even when “Upload” gets serious, it’s never more than a scene away from being funny as hell.