A second go on the digital life merry-go-round: Thoughts on Upload (season 2)

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Paradise is, by its very definition, supposed to be a place of perfect happiness and contentment where the flaws and brokenness of the real world find sweet, endlessly fulfilling resolution.

But as Greg Daniel’s (The Office, Parks and Recreation) newest comedic creation Upload makes thoughtfully, if humourously clear, in its buoyantly insightful second season, humanity always finds a way to make perfection look far more cracked around the edges, and in truth all the way through, that you might otherwise hope and expect.

When we left the show at the end of a promising and rapidly improving first season in which – SPOILERS ALERT!!! – Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) onetime arrogant douchebag and newly-deceased via a murderous conspiracy discovered that his new afterlife home, Lakeview, may not be as idyllic as advertised, Upload had made quite the case for life-after-death, traditionally the preserve of all the good things that real life never quite managed to get right, being less as a romantic ideal and more another grubby capitalistic transaction.

That’s not to say that the show was thundering from on high in searing polemic bursts about the trenchant, inequality buttressing evils of capitalism – that wouldn’t be all the funny now would it? Basically Karl Marx with a tinny laugh track – but it was considerably more meaningful in its outlook that the average sitcom.

In this imagined world of 2034 afterlife, you can buy your way into heaven, which comes with ever more lavish trappings depending on your ability to pay; got a lot of cash to throw around? Then a lavish penthouse with everything you could want or imagine is yours but if you’re not heavy on the financial backing, then you get a 2gig edition of life after death that pauses for the month once the data runs out.

People it seems have finally conquered death but as Upload points out, because we are still involved with our love of hierarchy and privilege lamentably intact, it’s not as paradisiacal as might be imagined.

With season one ending with the mystery of Nathan’s untimely death largely solved, season two kicks off with a newly-liberated from 2gig Nathan, now with supposedly uploaded girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) at his side, on the hunt, his once-fragmented memories now restored, for what it was his demise was meant to achieve.

What further corruption is going to be wrought on peoples’ eternal bliss at the hands of the ruthless types who see only dollar signs in an afterlife made up of 0s and 1s?

Quite a lot in fact, and so great is their reach and so socially deleterious their effect that Nathan’s new love – shallow, spoiled rich kid Ingrid is yesterday’s love but she won’t take no for an answer – Nora Antony (Andy Allo) has joined a commune in the woods known as the LUDDS (her father is a resident) to purge herself of her technological sins.

Everything goes swimmingly at first with Nora, her new beau Matteo (Paulo Costanzo) and the anti-tech activists, all varying degrees of true belief extremism, all set to bring down the bow-established and wholly unequal afterlife order.

Far from their near-declarations of love, true love at the end of season one – tech gets in the way once again of romance’s true course getting its heart-swelling way – Nathan and Nora seem to be on completely different sides of the equation, one enmeshed in the system, the other committed to bringing it to a luxury-ending screeching halt.

But life, and death as it turns out, are not quite that simple, and as season two progresses with the smooth, well-oiled assurance of a show in its second very funny season, the two converge in all kinds of different ways with Nathan and his bro’ bud Luke (Kevin Bigley) who gets a conscience and a heart as the episodes go on, and Nora turning out to have more of a Robin Hood things going on than either realise.

With their commonality of purpose finally apparent to the other, and love finally declared to the relief of those who know Nora doesn’t really belong with the extremist Matteo and Ingrid isn’t quite as dead as she makes out – more deceit from the vapid rich? Who’da thunk it, right? – Upload does live out its activist soul, but in ways that don’t simply mean destruction of the money-bolstered status quo but which offers something to the worthy poor such as Nathan’s struggling mum Viv (Jessica Tuck) and beloved niece Nevaeh (Chloe Coleman) with whom Nathan stays in regular digital contact as is the way of death a decade or so from now.

With its eye firmly on both the potential for good and the propensity for bad of technology, Upload, which admirably doesn’t go easy answers but thinks its way through some pretty thorny issues, has a filed way this time around with where our capacity to reshape the world around us, both in this life and the next, night take us.

You’d like to think it’s only good and perfect places because who’d be so callous as to mess with death and its promise of bliss and renewal, but you’d be sadly wrong, and much of the thoughtfulness, and yes, vivaciously surreal humour of Upload, which expands the role of A.I. Guy (Owen Daniels) to poignantly humorous effect (he is the delivery method for many incisively hilarious zingers such a babies in the afterlife), comes from its willingness to assume humanity will do the worst not the best with the powerful , all-too-easily malleable digital tools at its disposal.

It always acknowledges however, and how could it not, that great good lies in the human soul too and as Nathan and Nora finally unite in ways best left to the viewing, and the dark threads seem to be wending their way to some sort of happily ever after, it looks as if maybe the good guys will get their day in the sun, after all.

Or will they?

The season, in the best tradition of all serials, ends on a doozy of a cliffhanger with the expected third season – not yet confirmed but Upload is streaming well for Amazon so fingers duly crossed – with a lot more life left, word use fully intended, in the idea of a flawed, but hopeful, afterlife yet.

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