How Amazon's Upload created its "gross and real" version of the future
The new Amazon Studios series Upload sets up the pieces for imminent class warfare, in scenes that stood out to the stars of the show.
In the new science-fiction comedy Upload, the afterlife isn't a heavenly garden. It's a virtual resort run by tech giants who have found a way to keep profiting even from the dead, and that isn't lost on the cast. Two of the show's leads, Robbie Amell and Andy Allo, tell Inverse about their favorite moments when the show's themes on class inequality are most evident.
Light spoilers for Upload below.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video on May 1, Upload is the newest series from TV producer Greg Daniels, creator of broadcast comedy giants The Office and Parks and Recreation. In taking his talents to Amazon, Daniels spoofs the shortcomings of paradigm-shifting technology while mulling over the working class who are so often left behind it.
"It's pretty fundamental," Daniels says of the show's focus on class division. "Life for a suburban family has been imagined a million times, but what’s the comedy from issues like self-driving cars? I think one of the fun things about this show is you’re getting a crack to imagine what life will be like ten years from now."
In Upload, Robbie Amell (The Flash, Code 8) stars as Nathan, a hotshot computer coder on the brink of a revolutionary product when he dies in a (self-driving) automobile accident. Nathan wakes up in Lakeview, a virtual afterlife simulation run by tech conglomerate Horizen. As Nathan struggles to adjust to the imperfect perfection of paradise, things get complicated when he falls for his real-world handler, the very alive Nora (Ally Ando).
At its heart, Upload is a situational comedy with a dramatic murder mystery propelling the plot, but underlying every episode in its first season is income inequality. Upload doesn't take long to introduce concepts like the "Two Gigs" — the deceased residents of Lakeview who can only afford the two free gigabytes of data in the simulation per month.
It's like the world's worst data plan, except with bad cell reception, you live in fluorescent squalor beneath the lavish mountainside resort.
To Amell, shooting the scene introducing the Two Gigs made it clear how different Upload is from other comedies about technology.
"When Greg told us about it, I thought it was so gross. But it's so real" Amell says. "If this was a digital afterlife created by people, they would have the same problems our world does. I loved Nathan's process of it: This isn't even real. This is code. There's no reason for this. But it's a business."
"It's so simple but it's so gross and so real, it stood out to me as something I hadn't seen in television before," he added. "It was just so dead-on."
A different scene set later in Upload features a young girl eating chicken — real chicken, with real bones — for the first time. That might not sound exciting, but the characters of this world, it's a surprisingly big deal.
"She’s never had real chicken," says Andy Allo, whose character Nora wasn't in the scene but saw it unfold over table reads. "Because everything is 3D printed. It’s this idea that only the wealthy can grow their own food, everybody else is printing food. Growing real stuff is a luxury. It's such a tiny moment but you're like, Whoa, that's insane."
It isn't emphasized so much in the show, but the continued effects of climate change disrupt the natural food supply, forcing people to 3D print their food
"It's actually against the rules to grow your own food but of course the wealthy can do that," Allo explains.
Greg Daniels, whose work illustrates a knack for poking fun at the workplace when the workplace is no fun, explores new creative territory in Upload. Despite seven seasons of a TV show exploring the banalities of local politics, the parks department of Pawnee never quite explored the strife of Indiana's working class. Upload goes harder and harsher into wealth inequality by painting poverty not quite hell, but certainly a flavorless purgatory.
"I would always say to the crew: 'This is not a dystopian future, it's not a utopian future. It's a middle-topian future,'" Daniels says, "Which to me, is the funny take. When any new technology is introduced it's this wonderful thing that's going to transform everything in positive ways. It's not until later when there's actually unpleasant side effects."
Upload will be released for streaming on Prime Video on May 1.