If Upload had come out five years ago, it’d probably feel a lot more novel. A story about a virtual afterlife is a good idea and coming from Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Recreation) should be a great sign of comedic edge and heart.
Unfortunately, Upload has a lot working against it that isn’t its fault. It’s working in a world that’s seen Black Mirror and The Good Place. There’s no doubt that this show was pitched as exactly that. But, it can’t be as bleak and biting as Charlie Brooker’s dystopias or as thematically rich and warm as Michael Schur’s afterlife.
Instead, Upload too often wants to ride the middle. It teases a darker storyline regarding the death of its main character, Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), but it doesn’t commit to that darkness in fear of sacrificing its very non-confrontational tone. At the same time, it rarely lets loose with the kookiness of its premise. With a few minor exceptions, the show doesn’t want to go far out for a laugh.
That’s probably the most damning thing to say about a comedy show: it’s often not very funny. There’s a surprising amount of brand-themed humor that merits a chuckle or two, but Upload mostly feels toothless and glib with its attempts at modern commentary. It lacks the necessary sharpness for the kind of satire it’s attempting.
It should be said that the cast isn’t the problem with Upload. Robbie Amell is a solid if unremarkable lead as Nathan and his co-star Andy Allo is a bright spot as Nathan’s tech support, Nora. And you’ll see a few other familiar faces that aren’t around as long as they should be.
Maybe the worst thing about Upload is the way it looks. Because so much of the show is dealing with artificial and digital constructs, the filmmaking, lighting, and sets often look digitally manipulated in really poor ways. It probably won’t even be noticeable to most viewers since it will all blend in with the virtual look of the show, but it turns a decent-sized production into something that looks a little more amateur.
Even though the majority of this review sounds negative, the truth is that Amazon’s Upload is worse than bad. It’s just fine. Perfectly down the middle, non-disruptive, vanilla cookie FINE. That means it will likely be a pleasant and unobtrusive experience for most audiences. But, it also means it’s mostly boring with little dramatic or comedic heights to recommend.
If Black Mirror was too dark for your tastes, maybe Upload will scratch a similar itch. Otherwise, this show is probably destined for the recycle bin.