21 Nov 2023

What is the best sitcom on TV and why is it Upload?

From Widescreen, 12:40 pm on 21 November 2023

Now in its third season, Prime Video’s high tech satire hits new heights, reports Dan Slevin.

Still from the comedy series Upload with Robbie Arnell as Nathan

Photo: Amazon Studios

The fact that big tech companies like Apple, Amazon and Netflix continue to fund shows that are all about the existential dangers to society of untramelled corporate greed and the dehumanisation of unquestioned technological progress never ceases to amaze me but here we are in a world where these ironies abound.

One of the best examples of biting the corporate hand that feeds is Greg Daniels’ Upload, a show that doesn’t seem to get a huge amount of attention but, when I mention it, lots of people seem to have seen.

We are a few years in the future and technology has been invented that allows humans to move their memories and personality into a virtual afterlife, either in anticipation of their demise or because it’s a better option than what’s available now. However, this is only available at a price. The poors need not apply. Digital immortality is not for the likes of them.

Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is working on a free version of the tech that will make it available to everybody but he dies suddenly in a suspicious car accident. When he wakes up he is in Lakeview, a gloriously over blown digital resort with an expense account that allows him to have whatever he wants. Personal assistants known as ‘angels’ VR in from a server farm in New Jersey to ensure that residents’ every need is responded to. (They also spend a lot of their time fixing bugs in the AI system that keeps it all afloat.)

Still from the TV comedy Upload featuring Robbie Arnell as Nathan Brown

Photo: Amazon Studios

Even for those that make it there is a class system – inequality follows you wherever you go. In one episode we discover an impoverished underclass in the basement of Lakeview, whose afterlife is limited by shockingly small data caps.

Nathan’s angel is Nora (Andy Allo, who I see previously played guitar with Prince in the New Power Generation – what a career!). Nora and Nathan start to have feelings for each other despite the fact that neither share a real life plane of existence. As Nathan starts to realise that his demise might not have been accidental, Nora begins to work on the outside to find out the truth and the show morphs from a daffy comedy about modern technology and its foibles to being all of that and a classic corporate conspiracy thriller.

Still from season one of Upload featuring Robbie Arnell (Nathan) and Andy Allo (Nora)

Photo: Amazon Studios

The show is quite racy – in terms of pace as well as content – so not for the whole family, but the gags and performances are tremendous especially the rapport between Amell and Allo who you desperately want to see together.

Support comes from an excellent assortment of comedians and actors, but I want to make special mention of Owen Daniels as A.I. Guy who appears in almost every shot while we are at Lakeview, often in multiple simultaneous guises – gardener, elevator operator, concierge, hairdresser, etc.

Still from the tv comedy Upload

Photo: Amazon Studios

I assumed before researching this article that Lakeview itself was an entirely digital construction – nothing so grand and ornate could possibly exist in real life – but the exteriors are, in fact, Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York. The attempts to make downtown Vancouver look like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are laughably less successful.

Amazon makes most of its money from Amazon Web Services, renting space on its computers to other companies as their cloud which means that – should this technology ever come to pass – Amazon will be the company best-placed to take advantage of it. I’m sure this is not lost on the creators of Upload who are now twiddling their thumbs waiting for news about a pick-up for season four.

If that doesn’t happen, the cliff-hanger at the end of season three will be particularly bleak so we can only hope that enough people watch it to encourage Amazon to hold their noses and write some more cheques.

There are three seasons of Upload, now streaming on Prime Video.