‘Upload’ returns with more humor and heart — and makes a point along the way
In the sci-fi comedy’s strange future, dying people can pay to live forever in a virtual afterlife.
There’s no show on TV quite like “Upload.”
The Prime Video comedy about a near future where the wealthy can upload their consciousness to a digital heaven is a unique combination of sweetness and pessimism — a high-concept science-fiction comedy with down-to-earth stories of love and loss.
It’s been two years since the series, which stars Robbie Amell (“The Flash”) as a young programmer who dies suspiciously but exists in a virtual afterlife, premiered. It returned Friday with a welcome dose of humor, cynicism and heart.
Seven episodes available now on Prime Video.
Created by “The Office” producer Greg Daniels, “Upload” is a romantic comedy that also comments on late capitalism, widening wealth gaps, systemic inequities and technological dependence. It imagines a future in which megacorporations like “Panera Facebook” and “FedEx Little Caesars” control most of the world, the wealthy get to live forever while the poor labor to keep them virtually alive, and processed food takes on a whole new meaning.
“Upload” is the rare series that can make a big-picture point about the way we live now (and might in the future), but doesn’t get bogged down by its messaging or world-building. In Season Two, it remains grounded in characters and relationships, with sight gags — terrifying virtual babies, giant Adirondack chairs and floating heads — and deep-cutting wit as a bonus to the emotional story.
The new episodes pick up almost immediately after the Season One finale, as programmer Nathan (Amell) deals with his rich, obsessive girlfriend’s decision to upload to his heaven so they can be together forever, literally. Meanwhile, his erstwhile love Nora (Andy Allo) hides out with the anti-technology “Luds,” investigating the conspiracy that led to Nathan’s murder. Their relationship, while always tricky given that one of them is alive while the other isn’t, is more precarious than ever.
The biggest strength of Season One was the romance between Nathan and Nora, so Season Two suffers slightly as the plot forces the couple apart. When the actors reunite, they light it up with their innate chemistry, and the second half of the season has a zippier pace and lighter feel as a result.
The emotional distance between them, however, allows supporting characters to take more of the spotlight. Aleesha (Zainab Johnson), Nora’s flippant co-worker at the digital heaven company, is the major breakout this season. She represents the everyman of the “Upload” future, more concerned with getting housing larger than a shipping container than in government conspiracies, murders or fighting the system.
The seven-episode second season retains the first’s ability to simultaneously present a cynical outlook on the future and also argue that love can conquer (almost) all. It’s a tricky tone to perfect, but the sharp acting and sharper scripts help immensely. “Upload” has also developed a distinctive visual language. There is a golden surreality to the lighting, colors and decor of the digital heavens, a startling contrast to the dark, dirty real world.
“Upload” Season One premiered two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and Season Two arrives amid another unprecedented time in modern history: The pandemic is still happening, Russia has invaded Ukraine and domestic politics are fraught. In times of uncertainty, some people gravitate toward pure distraction, choosing happy-go-lucky entertainment that keeps their minds off the news.
But “Upload” is well-timed once more as a series that acknowledges both the good and the bad in modern life. Its near future is bleak, but there is hope amid its late capitalism, climate change and artificial-intelligence babies.
After all, a little bit of hope is really what we’re all looking for in this life and the next, isn’t it?
Read more at usatoday.com.