What could go wrong when a man is able to choose his afterlife? (Illustration by Sydney Sabbota, University of Michigan)
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What could go wrong when a man is able to choose his afterlife? (Illustration by Sydney Sabbota, University of Michigan)

Amazon Prime’s new series updates the afterlife to Heaven 2.0.

Already renewed for a second season just a week after it became available to stream, Amazon Prime’s new sci-fi comedy “Upload” has found its niche. Creator of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” Greg Daniels, has developed the series to suit a widespread audience.

Fans still mourning the loss of critically acclaimed sitcom “The Good Place” and viewers that were disappointed with the most recent season of “Black Mirror” will find something they enjoy in this futuristic parody.

“Upload” takes place in the not-so-distant year of 2033. We found a way to cheat death, but it comes at a price. Before dying, people upload themselves into the virtual afterlife of their choosing.

After computer programmer Nathan (Robbie Amell) dies prematurely, the system uploads him to Lake View, a virtual heaven chosen by his rich, controlling and still-living girlfriend, Ingrid (Allegra Edwards).

The sitcom follows Nathan as he adjusts to living digitally while under Ingrid’s thumb. But he isn’t alone. Nora (Andy Allo), his living customer service rep, or “Angel,” helps Nathan along the way as he navigates his newfound afterlife.

As she helps Nathan come to terms with the pros and cons of digital existence, Nora is also struggling to focus on her work and help her dying father who refuses to upload.

While the series is full of comedic moments, “Upload” takes on a darker approach to comedy. Not only are there elements of a murder mystery and heart-wrenching drama, but the real draw of the show lies in its creativity and unapologetic commentary.

“Upload” features imaginative, yet all too relevant, inventions such as self-driving rental bikes and condoms that require both parties to verbally consent. Innovations like these may make one envy the characters’ lives in “Upload.” However, the series shows that everything has a price, whether that be through money, information or privacy.

Similar to “Black Mirror,” the series forces audiences to look at their reliance on technology as well as the direction in which new innovations are taking us as a society.

No matter how impressive some of the inventions are, “Upload” takes a look at the prevalence of microtransactions. While people can purchase a better afterlife package, price tags still bombard them on everything that they want to do or eat in the afterlife.

This proves to be a major obstacle for Nathan since his account is linked to his girlfriend’s credit card, so she must approve every purchase he makes. In one scene, Nathan browses his mini fridge that holds hundreds of options, from a cup of coffee to an In-N-Out cheeseburger.

Even in the most expensive afterlife, advertisements constantly target Nathan. When he died, he uploaded his entire being. As a result, the ads have access to everything about him including his memories. Sometimes, they are so personal that they reveal things to Nathan about himself that he himself is surprised by.

The concept of a digital afterlife begets questions about technology’s prevalence in our lives along with the existence of a non-digital afterlife, or even a soul. “Upload” interrogates these ideas by portraying a variety of attitudes toward the uploading process. For example, one character refuses to upload because of their loved ones who passed away before digital afterlives were invented.

“Uploads,” or people who have been uploaded, face existential thoughts that none of us living folks could even imagine. While the system assigns angels to each upload, all they can really do is help them navigate their new surroundings.

Some characters are assigned digital therapy pets that they can cuddle and play with, only to be spoken to via the animal by a therapist using it as a mouthpiece.

In this world, there are as many options for a final resting place as there are fast food chains. Big tech conglomerates run each of these digital afterlife experiences to make even larger and more powerful companies.

For example, Panera and Facebook are now one big company that created an afterlife dedicated to drinking, clubbing and gambling.

“Upload” forces audiences to think critically about their present, even while they chuckle about how close it hits to home. One character even suffers from a condition called “chronic vape lung.” In another scene, everyone on a train wears a mask to protect them from air pollution.

The series is oversaturated with creative inventions and tongue-in-cheek references to modern-day societal issues. At first, the irony mixed with the over-the-top world-building and the commentary on capitalism was concerning. However, my first impression of “Upload” reminded me of my first impression of “The Good Place.”

Like “The Good Place,” at first glance, “Upload” is absurd. The world is simultaneously so similar and dissimilar to our own that it left me confused.

But the true heart of the show lies in the characters. The relationships they have with one another and the journeys that change them for the better keep audience members hooked.

“Upload” makes sure to focus on the boundary between Nathan and everyone in his life that is still living. We see this divide reflected in the lives of the supporting characters in Lake View with Nathan. One young upload loses connection with his family as his younger siblings become older than him. Not only does this affect their relationship, but it affects his identity as a teenager trapped in a child’s body.

Another character that Nathan meets in Lake View is former army corporal Luke (Kevin Bigley), who uses cheat codes to get around all the microtransactions in his way. Luke often tries to mingle with living people, but they frequently turn him down. Eventually, virtual chat room administrators kick him out of a forum because he is an upload.

After one season, it is clear that “Upload” will continue to grow and comment on social issues and technology. I am confident that there is still much more to see from both Daniels and his team at Amazon, but the most engaging part of the series will be seeing the characters learn and grow throughout the series.

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