If you’re looking for something new to watch during social isolation I’ll readily recommend the new show Upload from The Office creator Greg Daniels. The 10 episode season arrives May 1 on Amazon, and it’s got VR right at its heart.
An email about the new show came in from Amazon right at the start of COVID-19 social isolation in March. The message sent to Jamie Feltham titled “Upload – Digital Press Kit” was quickly brought to the attention of our editorial Slack group, and suddenly “several people are typing” all at once. The creator of my favorite television series — a show streaming sometimes in three rooms of my house simultaneously — made a new comedy about VR? Named Upload?
After giving the trailer a look, I requested an interview and received access to the show under embargo. Over the last several weeks I’ve watched Upload in 2-4 episode binges and, now that I’ve finished it, feel the same way I did after the first season of The Office. I just want more.
So what exactly is Upload?
“In talking to all the crew, I would always say that this is not a dystopian future and it’s not a utopian future, it’s like some kind of middletopian future,” Daniels said. “Which to me is the funny take on things because you know when any new technology is introduced it always is introduced as being this wonderful new thing that’s going to transform everything only in positive ways, and then it’s not till later that you realize, oh, there’s actually some pretty unpleasant side effects for this technology.”
I’ll avoid spoilers because the show’s best moments do indeed explore the unpleasant side effects of a host of technologies, and I don’t want to ruin any of those gags. Overall, Upload’s future is wrought with income inequality as businesses like Facebook, Apple and others compete to provide your “best digital afterlife” through an uploading process that rebuilds your consciousness in simulated space. The plot centers around Nathan played by Robbie Amell and Nora played by Andy Allo. Nathan is a new resident of a simulated place called “Lakeview” which is made by a company aptly named “Horizen”. You know, like Facebook’s upcoming VR social network. Allo plays a customer service representative “angel” who helps a number of uploads with their many needs.
Set against the backdrop of a mystery and love triangle, this is a character-driven comedy “about science and love attempting to beat death” with a cast of characters whose personalities are just beginning to be explored after just one season.
In a Zoom call this week, I asked Amell, Allo and Daniels if they’ve tried modern VR headsets and they said Amazon set up a demonstration for the cast with PSVR and Oculus Rift. Allo said she sweated in “Beat Saber” while Daniels recalled memories of encounters with zombies, a whale and trips to other cities. Amell said he also visited the MGM Grand’s Zero Latency attraction in Las Vegas.
While the ground tread by Upload isn’t exactly new, I found the tone of this “middletopian” vision of the future refreshing, funny, and just the kind of safe escape I needed right now. Can we get a few more seasons?