Upload to the afterlife you can afford

Posted on 05/12/2020 in misc

Like everybody else, the pandemic is "top of mind" 24 x 7 for me. I'm writing to help myself not internalize all of it. You can find other posts in the series at https://odonnellweb.com/pelican/tag/coronavirus.html

We knocked out all 10 episodes of Upload this week, the new Amazon Prime series with a writing connection, if not a spiritual connection, to The Good Place. Upload is set about 15 years in the future, in a world where driverless cars are the norm, and people with the means can achieve everlasting life by having their consciousness uploaded to corporately controlled “heavens.” In this future world, you get the afterlife you can afford, not the afterlife you deserve. It’s the prosperity gospel come to life, except in Upload’s world you can tour your afterlife home before you give them all your money. No faith required.

Our star is a douchbro software developer that is working on a “free” version of digital heaven, and this threat to the very profitable world of digital heaven just happens to coincide with his fail-safe driverless car almost killing him. As he is wheeled into the hospital his girlfriend signs him up for her rich family’s high class digital after life plan. Apparently you must upload before you actually die, which seems like it should be a larger plot point than it was. Or maybe the normality of checking out before you actually die is the plot point here.

The show pitches itself as a romantic comedy, as our doucebro software dude isn’t sure he even likes his girlfriend, and she now owns him, literally. Instead, he falls for his “angel,” the customer service rep from Horizon that helps him adjust to his new life, err afterlife. One thing about this world is that VR is so good that alive people can come to heaven and interact with their dead family and friends. So much for ‘till death do us part. The dead and alive can also interact physically, but I don’t want to ruin that plot point for you.

However, the show isn’t really a romantic comedy. It’s a biting satire of late stage capitalism. You get the afterlife you can afford, no good deeds required. While the well off are basically existing in a county club atmosphere, the poor only get 2 gigs per month, which doesn’t go far. They live our eternity in a white walled basement room with no windows, and when they run out of data for the month they shut down, just like your phone does. It’s not idyllic for the rich though, as they apparently get to spend eternity swiping highly personalized ads out of their line of sight. Which now that I’ve typed that, sounds more like hell than heaven, no matter how many maple bacon donuts you get to eat for breakfast.

It’s a cute, fun, show that is trying to ask some big questions while disguising itself as a romantic comedy. The murder mystery plot is a little uneven, and the whole idea of maintaining a romantic relationship across the dead-not dead line is almost too weird to contemplate. Why would you? And how do the dead make phone calls to the living? The satire is the best executed story in season one, and I think the show would be well served to focus more on that next season.