'Upload' Is Like 'Black Mirror' With Really Bleak Jokes

The pitch-black satire about a Silicon Valley-made digital afterlife is scathing, entertaining, and seems self-aware it's on Amazon.
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When it became clear that a too-large portion of 2020 would have to be spent at home, I made a resolution to watch and read some of the most-well reviewed films, shows, and books I had never seen before. That lasted maybe a month of quarantine. After well over 100 days at home,home, my media diet is that of someone who's given up: mindless reruns of Property Brothers and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, motorsports documentaries, and rewatching TV. If that sounds dark, it's because it is.


The strangest series I've watched recently is Amazon's Upload, a bonkers pitch-black satire about a digital afterlife from The Office and Parks & Recreation co-creator Greg Daniels, who first came up with the idea in the 80s when he was a writer on SNL. There's been a ton of recent TV dealing with the post-mortem, like NBC's The Good Place, Netflix's Russian Doll, Amazon's Forever, and TBS's Miracle Workers, but Upload stands out for its hopeless view of our near future. It scraps Daniels' preferred mockumentary style for something more plot-driven and traditional. Also in contrast to the aforementioned shows, Upload is not critically-acclaimed and for good reason: it's overstuffed, tonally bizarre, but that's what makes it perfect for a binge-watch. It has to be experienced to be believed.

It's set in 2033, a future with self-driving cars, dating apps where you rate your hookups, and grotesque corporate mergers like Panera Bread-Facebook. As a person is dying, their souls can be uploaded, for a price, to a virtual afterlife hosted by a tech conglomerate like the fictional Horizen. There, they can still call their loved ones and keep their memories, appearance, and personalities. You get what you pay for in these Silicon Valley disruptions of heaven though, and its poorest users only get 2GB of data per month and they freeze if they run out of data. While that seems like the premise left on the cutting room floor episode of Black Mirror, Upload is a comedy, jamming as many jokes as it can into lean 30-minute episodes.

The show follows Nora (Andy Allo), an underpaid and non-unionized customer service rep at Horizen who serves as an "angel" for "uploads," which is what they call the virtual souls in the tech-afterlife. She becomes close to one of her customers, Nathan (Robby Amell), a vain, successful coder who was uploaded following a fatal car accident by his controlling girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards). Horizen's afterlife plays out similarly to how the real-world works: a Koch Brothers-like dead billionaire thrives while unlucky others like Nathan's hilarious neighbor Luke (Kevin Bigley) try and fail to game the virtual system to get free food, perks, and an afternoon in the "Dark Web," away from the afterlife's corporate overlords.

The show seems more concerned with skewering the corrosive amorality of capitalism than it is with the plot or the jokes. It's sometimes so scathing and so self-aware that I'm sure the irony isn't lost on the writers' room that this series landed on Amazon, of all places. There will be moments when watching this will make you wonder things like, "Who is this series for? Why are they trying to do so much?" But other times, it will be genuinely funny, frightening, and thought-provoking that you can binge it in an afternoon. Instead of going with watching a show firmly in the critical consensus, try something weird, adventurous, and totally unpredictable like Upload.