Upload returns as a surprisingly confident version of itself in season two, essentially experiencing the opposite of a sophomore slump. Thanks to a tighter seven-episode run, the Greg Daniels-created series delivers a sharper punch this time around, no longer toggling unevenly between various interesting but scattered ideas. Instead, it solidifies its cognizant approach to topical Big Tech issues while expanding on its earnest elements.
The unique digital afterlife premise is still infinitely compelling, as is the sparkling chemistry between lead duo Nathan Roberts (Robbie Amell) and Nora Antony (Andy Allo). Seriously, the actors’ cutesy and convincing banter alone elevates the show. The two connect after Nathan dies and his consciousness is “uploaded” into a tech-company-created faux haven called Lakeview, where an extremely alive Nora works as his customer service rep, a.k.a. an “angel.”
Season one struggled to keep things on an even keel, often swiveling between being a charming rom-com, futuristic odyssey, and a paltry murder mystery about who killed Nathan. It’s not flawless in season two, but Daniels and the writers now navigate Upload’s plotlines with a (mostly) unifying thread tying them together, and stringing them into a potential third season.
Any comparisons between Upload and The Good Place (created by Daniels’ Parks And Rec collaborator Mike Schur) are understandable, as both handle life after death. NBC’s incisive comedy tested human beings’ capacity to evolve into their best versions. At its core, though, Upload is really about the rot of capitalism, and the show excels at using fantastical concepts to examine real-life corporate culture and greed.
Season one established that even in utopia, customers aren’t spared from being suppressed by their overlords—in this case, tech giant Horizon. They’re charged for basic benefits, automatically causing a class divide between residents based on how much data they can afford. To make things worse, Horizon has come up with a dreadful way to invade their privacy. It’s up to Nathan and Nora again to stop them—even if a lot of it happens through the show’s iteration of Facetime calls.
Cut to season two: Nathan quickly finds his way back into Lakeview’s grand suites and parks after being frozen in the 2-gig, black-and-white zone for weeks, thanks to his wealthy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards). During this time in the land of the living, Nora has gone on the run with her father, because whoever murdered Nathan is now after her. She joins an anti-tech organization with cult-ish vibes, and dates one of its members, Matteo (Paulo Costanzo).
Matteo and his team are determined to take down Lakeview, which puts Nora in quite a dilemma. Luckily, Upload doesn’t drag out the drama between them. Nathan and Nara reunite to beat the villains, with plenty of blushing and repartee along the way. The actual insidiousness on the show does feel too generic, though. Horizon and its head honchos get no specificity. Nefarious billionaire villains like David Choak (William B. Davis) are one-note, and Matteo’s fight against Big Tech is cliquey and equally uncomplicated. Season two also hints at a large-scale political power play, and throws in a bitty cyber crimes investigation arc. Even Nathan’s mission statement of wanting to “help the poor” seems broad. They’re all fragments of a major twist that doesn’t get fully fleshed out.
Yet, the ploy works because it always brings Nathan and Nora together. Their connection, despite being in different realms of reality, ground the heightened scenarios they face, and Amell and Allo are the beating heart of Upload. The show also capitalizes on season one MVP Aleesha (Zainab Johnson, Upload’s undisputed comedic breakout), Nora’s coworker who gets a larger role as she unknowingly gets tangled up in Horizon’s corporate hierarchy.
Upload also continues to embrace its bizarre sci-fi postulation in dark ways, which is where all the fun lies. For starters, Nathan’s exigent lover Ingrid uploads herself to Lakeview—or does she?—and goes overboard in trying to reconnect with him. The two seriously consider adopting a baby, a farcical digital creation by Horizon. What better way to make eternity seem fruitful than the promise of an undying family? (In case there was any doubt, these computerized infants look just as creepy as they sound.)
It’s a ludicrous narrative that somehow fits perfectly with the tone of the show, and even more so with Ingrid’s personality, who says lines like, “Please adjust the temperature of our room to Mediterranean summer evening” with total conviction. Her entire arc is derived from terribly concocted, unsustainable plans. Yes, she’s slightly evil, and the repeat telecast of Nathan, Nora, and Ingrid’s love triangle is tedious. But the frequently insipid character somehow doesn’t turn into an easy punchline. The show mines Edwards’ ability to go from grating to vulnerable without missing a beat, and ultimately looks at Ingrid with an empathetic eye.
Upload isn’t as disruptive as it thinks it is, and it tries to be too all-encompassing for its own good. Still, it’s thought-provoking and entertaining enough. Amell settles into Nathan with more self-awareness, but it’s Allo, Johnson, and Edwards who come out swinging. The solid performances, and Upload’s timely arrival—when is scrutinizing affluent conglomerates and the impact of social media not relevant?—really transform the show in its second outing.