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Amazon Prime’s Upload Has Some Technical Problems

The obvious comparative to Amazon Prime’s “Upload” is going to be NBC’s brilliant “The Good Place,” another show with a unique vision of the afterlife, but it actually reminded me more of Albert Brooks’ also-brilliant “Defending Your Life,” the story of a man who didn’t really figure out what mattered to him until after he died. Sadly, neither comparisons do “Upload” any favors. This is one of the most stunning disappointments of the TV year, a show that displays none of the wit or charm of the best Daniels projects like “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office.” It often feels like a lesser TV creator trying to mimic “The Good Place” or even an early draft of what became that great show. The ideas are superficial, the performances are mostly bland, and the plotting is frustrating. Worst of all, it’s just not that funny. I sure hope the afterlife has a few more laughs.

Last comparison, I promise – most people will draw the throughline from Netflix’s Emmy-winning “San Junipero” episode of “Black Mirror” as “Upload” also imagines a world in which the human consciousness can be sent to a virtual plane after death. In this vision, the uploaded person can still interact with the real world, sometimes even through a hologram form—an attempt to “download” someone back in episode three does not go well. The uploaded world is kind of like a posh country club complete with gorgeous views and 24/7 service—although this one comes with the modern (in)convenience of in-app purchases.

Our traveler to the uploaded world is Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), a handsome fella who works in the tech sector and has a beautiful girlfriend named Ingrid (Allegra Edwards). One night, while traveling in a self-driving car, Nathan crashes into a truck—if you’re wondering how that’s possible, the mystery of Nathan’s death is a plot point. He is sent to the afterlife, where he is granted an “angel” named Nora (Andy Allo), who we also see in the real world, going about her life as what is essentially a concierge for a virtual personality. Of course, Nathan and Nora develop a relationship that we’re meant to wish could transcend the fact that he’s actually dead.

And there’s problem number one. While Allo is charming enough to keep viewers mildly engaged (and wishing she was in a better project), it’s undefined why she really sees anything in Nathan beyond his genetic gifts. It’s not that Amell is bad, but he’s an underwritten character, although he makes out much better than Edwards, who has been given a shallow girlfriend trope that feels beneath Daniels in every way. The characters here are stunningly thin, and comedies like this don’t work if we don’t care about the people stuck in the high-concept predicament. Even the clever vision of “The Good Place” is nothing without its performances and people. It’s as if Daniels and his team were so caught up in creating their digital world that they forgot to put anyone interesting in it or give them something to do worth caring about.

Five episodes screened for review. Premieres on Amazon Prime tomorrow, 5/1.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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