Upload is a wryly funny sci-fi fantasy about a future where people can upload their consciousness to a virtual afterlife. The show was created by Greg Daniels, who’s also responsible for beloved comedies like The Office and Parks and Recreation. While Upload is also a comedy, it represents a departure for Daniels from the mockumentary format. Instead, the show envisions a future complete with advanced technology that includes self-driving cars, mobile phones that can be summoned with the flick of a wrist and virtual reality everything.
The show stars Robbie Amell as Nathan, a man who’s uploaded to a fancy corporate-run digital afterlife following a freak accident and Andy Allo as Nora, his very much alive “angel,” who becomes much more to him than tech support. In a roundtable interview with CBR and other outlets, Daniels, Amell and Allo discussed the genesis of the show, the social commentary embedded in the premise, and the ins and outs of the show’s fictional technology.
Daniels began working on the idea for Upload over 10 years ago, but his initial impulse wasn’t to make it into a TV series. “In terms of what the show’s about, I’ve been thinking about this idea for a really long time,” Daniels shared. “I was writing it as a book at first. This was going to be my Harry Potter kind of. And so it has changed a lot over the years, but I think that this [show] is the best version of it. The comedy started to come more from the idea that [the virtual afterlife] was being hosted by a big tech company, and that seems like a good place to be right now when we’re all so dependent on big tech companies.”
Given the long development process, Daniels found that by the time the show was finally filming, he had very specific ideas about how its technology would work. “The funny thing is… you get used to having to answer questions from the crew,” Daniels explained. “And so they’ll say things like, ‘Okay, so when someone has uploaded, what happens to their body?’ And I’ll go, ‘Oh well the headless body is stored on ice, so that in the event of clone technology improve…’ You know and I’ll just answer it as if I have an actual real answer, because I’ve been thinking about it for so long.
“I mean, obviously the accurate answer is: who knows it’s all fiction,” Daniels added. “But it is funny that when you’ve been thinking about and imagining something for a long time you start to really believe that it’s got all these rules that you can’t break.”
Despite the fictional nature of much of the technology, Amell was quick to point out that some of the elements of the show that were science fiction when they were shooting in 2018 have become science fact in the two years since. “I thought what was really interesting too, from the beginning to the end, was a lot of the things that Greg put into the show ended up coming true, or a version of it came true in real life,” Amell said. “So I guess the only downside of it taking a couple years was it’ll feel like some of the things are the show mimicking life where it really was life mimicking the show. And that’s kudos to Greg and the writing team for grounding as much of the sci-fi side in some semblance of reality or technology that was already out there.”
Meanwhile, Allo noted that despite how thoroughly Daniels had considered the technology of this fictional world, the show doesn’t hold viewers’ hands, instead opting to let them discover how things work for themselves. “One thing that’s cool… is in the show a lot of stuff isn’t explained,” Allo observed, “it’s like this is the world, and you just have to buy in and jump into it…. It’s not Upload for dummies….”
On top of featuring surprisingly plausible future technology, the show also includes potent social commentary on classism, especially due to the conceit that only those with extreme wealth can afford to upload to a desirable virtual afterlife. That commentary was baked into the DNA of the show. “I think that good science fiction is really talking about the present,” Daniels revealed. “And so, when you think about some of the problems that society has, income inequality and the unfairness of our societies seems to have been getting worse and worse, and so that’s a good topic to be writing about.
“But then, the other thing is that because the sci-fi premise is that when you digitize your brain, a company will provide an afterlife for you, the notion of afterlife has two aspects to me,” Daniels continued. “One is the traditional notion… that you’re going to be somewhere that’s very delightful and pleasurable and you’re going to live forever there. And that’s what we’re trying to do with this virtual reality [afterlife called] Lakeview. And then the other traditional notion is the notion of justice, like you’re there because you did something good, you were a good person. But when [the virtual afterlife]’s only for people who can afford it, there’s no fairness to it. So to me that’s got to be part of the satire is that you’re there, but the guy down the hall is a billionaire who kind of bought his way in, and [that] doesn’t seem right.”
Those heady ideas never dilute the show’s humor, however, and both Amell and Allo said that their characters spoke to them immediately. “I will say Nora just fit like a glove,” Allo noted, “It just felt so easy to kind of embody her and share her story and her voice.”
Meanwhile Amell shared, “I love sci-fi but I also love comedy, so once I saw the script for Upload it was kind of like the best of both worlds…. It felt so right and felt like such a great fit from the beginning, so I really just kind of hit the lottery in the people that I was working with and the material that I was given.”
Created by Greg Daniels (The Office), Upload stars Robbie Amell, Andy Allo, Allegra Edwards, Zainab Johnson and Kevin Bigley. The series is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Upload EP Greg Daniels and stars Robbie Amell and Andy Allo talked about the show's fictional tech and the social commentary embedded in the story.