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Upload (2020) s01e10 – Freeyond

After ignoring the initial A plot but actually the B plot because Robbie Amell and Andy Allo are cute for eight episodes, this episode’s almost entirely about the mystery behind Amell’s death. And his missing memories. The ones he didn’t find out about until halfway through the season but didn’t care about because… bad writing?

Except the show wants to do some big twists, starting with Amell waking up after—presumably—getting his memories back as a side effect of a system upgrade. Think there’s a chance a show like “Upload” would pull some twisty shenanigan so it can split Allo and Amell onto their own subplots for a while before bringing them back together.

Except it runs twenty-four minutes so it’s like three minutes of the show, maybe four. If Greg Daniels had just written it out, he might have given Allo and Amell something sincere to perform (so obviously not) but it’s frustrating how lazy “Upload” gets.

Though there is a lot of action this episode. Daina Reid directs. She does a good enough job given the constraints. See, it’s time Allo to be put in actual danger. Season finale only has nineteen minutes to go and the show has three big changes it needs to get set up.

Instead of doing anything with its first season, “Upload” has done a “totally different season two” setup. I didn’t see some of the twists coming—mostly because they’re all pretty terrible—but I’m still not exactly disappointed. I didn’t have any hope for “Upload” to get to a good place with this season or to get set up well for next season.

Amazon ought to cancel this one and put Allo and Amell in something else, something with better writing. Zainab Johnson ought to get her own show, however. Then you’ve got all the best pieces of “Upload” in at least not this project. Because it’s not a good showcase for Allo or Amell.

Maybe I did expect the season finale to be better.

Upload (2020) s01e09 – Update Eve

Turns out “Upload” is able to surprise me. This episode reveals the Horizon app where all the dead people live is getting an upgrade. Including having more than two seasonings, which is a heck of a long time into the show to reveal none of the digital dead people eating are tasting anything the viewer can imagine.

Of course, I shouldn’t have expected any episode-to-episode continuity—creator Greg Daniels is back to write the season finale two-parter, starting here—and we’re just now finding out reality can be upgraded. It’s like the season finale for a traditionally plotted sitcom season versus streaming tenner “Upload”.

Not only is the system upgrading, it’s also a chance for Robbie Amell to get his memories back because even though they’ve been stolen and hacked and erased, Andy Allo’s fairly sure if they break the rules and keep him awake during the upgrade, he’ll remember everything.

Everything like what? We still have no idea because the show’s done a laughably bad job establishing Amell’s supporting cast. So it’s going to be a surprise for the season finale. We’re just getting to that surprise, which involves Allo bringing causal sex partner Matt Ward to an office party no one had mentioned until this episode because of course they didn’t.

So Allo’s got to sneak around the office party to play with Amell on the computer while she’s supposed to be making out with Ward to keep boss Andrea Rosen from being suspicious (if Rosen were good, “Upload” would be a lot better, instead it gives her a bunch of time but no content). Meanwhile, Zainab Johnson is trying to convince her dead virtual ward—Kevin Bigley—to cheat on the Easter egg hunt for money.

They also don’t say Christmas in this future.

Because SJWs.

Because Greg Daniels is a rebel.

Anyway.

If “Upload” were good it’d be an Imagine Entertainment movie from the late eighties, like if Tom Hanks’s career went differently. Instead, it’s a middling, underdeveloped, underproduced—albeit occasionally charmingly casted. Hopefully it’ll get Johnson, Allo, and Amell better work in the future; and in that order only.

The Old Guard (2020, Gina Prince-Bythewood)

The Old Guard is better than any of the Highlander movies (to date, I suppose) but sadly not a success. It gets relatively close to passing at least, but then the epilogue is forced, predictable (screenwriter Greg Rucka’s really obvious, he’s really episodic and he’s really obvious–Old Guard is based on Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s comic of the same name so the episodic makes sense. The obvious also makes sense (I’ve got many the Rucka comic under the reading belt). But the epilogue’s pretty bad. At one point during Old Guard, when I’d given up on this entry actually being good, I got hopeful for the sequel.

Epilogue kinds of ruins it.

But not as much as the soundtrack; Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O'Halloran are credited with the score, which I think is maybe three minutes of actual music. The rest of the time there’s the best accompanying song soundtrack Netflix was willing to pay for, which apparently was less than it would take to download some public domain recording of classical music.

All of the action sequences in Old Guard have a really annoying, not well-chosen song going with them. Maybe I just don’t like my ears to bleed, maybe the songs really are good, but then editor Terilyn A. Shropshire should’ve cut the action to the songs better. They’re not synced, it’s just accompaniment. So they apparently didn’t have to pay Bertelmann and O'Halloran anymore.

Highlander 1 had Queen and Michael Kamen.

The Old Guard has Bertelmann, O’Halloran, and the full versions of songs you can probably excerpt for free. It’s dreadful. Particularly because otherwise the action scenes would be good. There’s a solid fight scene for Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne; they’ve got to have their pissing contest after all. Old Guard follows the eighties action movie tropes well enough if it’d embraced them more it might’ve endeared.

Though it’s hard to endear with such a bad soundtrack. It’s really profoundly bad. It’s something else.

Anyway. Theron is playing Sean Connery, while Layne is the newest Highlander. She’s not Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod however, because Matthias Schoenaerts basically fits that part. Layne’s new and unexpected, the first new Immortal in two hundred years, which is ostensibly ominous but the comic’s got—sorry, sorry, the movie—the movie’s got profound logic problems. Rucka.

Theron has been alive since “Xena” times at least and has always battled on the side of good, saving this village or that village for thousands and thousands of years. But it’s 2020 and she no longer sees any evidence of the good she’s done for 4,000 years. Theron and her fellow Immortals Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli do nothing but fight. And in the last few decades, they’ve been mercenaries for the CIA, doing rescue operations. You know, all those rescue operations the CIA does with the good people. Thankfully there’s no government conspiracy for Rucka’s script to be naive about, instead there’s an evil big Pharma company out to steal the secret of immortality.

Harry Melling plays the head of the company.

It’s singularly one of the worst villain performances ever. Melling is playing the young Pharma bro evil mastermind only he’s dressed like Pee-Wee Herman (“Playhouse” not South Trail Cinema) and he’s so silly it’s hard to believe anyone could keep a straight face during the scenes. Though most of Melling’s supporting cast is bad. Actually, all of them.

Head of security Joey Ansah is a martial arts guy. He’s never good but at least he can do his fight stuff in the end. Whereas evil scientist Anamaria Marinca is just… bad.

What’s disconcerting is how the casting is otherwise good.

Layne’s fellow Marines—Mette Towley and Natacha Karam—they’re solid. Until that plot line goes bad—Rucka—a movie with them in it more had a lot of potential.

So the leads.

Theron’s as close to bad—due to abject disinterest in anything other than her hand-to-hand scenes, not even the gun fight scenes, which are fine other than that terrible soundtrack–that disinterest is even more concerning given Theron produced the film (which means she’s hit that stage of Eighties Eastwood stage of career)—without every actually being bad. She shows some personality a handful of times, but there’s really no call for it because there’s not really any significant character development because….

Rucka.

Layne’s got some really good moments and she’s always appealing but Old Guard isn’t supposed to be a pilot movie or even a TV movie to test out how Layne does on Netflix, it’s supposed to be a good part. And it’s not a good part. No one’s got a good part.

Well, Schoenaerts. Except his performance is the same Schoenaerts head-shaking and looking off into the distance thing he always does, just immortal this time. He’s likable though. Be fun to see in the sequel. Maybe.

Kenzari’s great. Marinelli’s fine. Chiwetel Ejiofor hopefully bought something nice.

Prince-Bythewood’s direction is fine. The action scenes would’ve been good without the terrible soundtrack. The Old Guard’s not her fault (I mean, I don’t know about the soundtrack but I sincerely hope it wasn’t her idea); the direction’s fine otherwise. The action scenes are anomalies. When scenes otherwise go wrong, it’s because of the script.

Though there are a handful of nice moments in Rucka’s script; until the third act, it really seems like Old Guard’s going to make it through. And then it doesn’t.

Because Rucka’s cheap and obvious, Melling is atrocious, and the soundtrack is painfully exasperating.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood; screenplay by Greg Rucka, based on the comic book by Rucka and Leandro Fernandez; directors of photography, Barry Ackroyd and Tami Reiker; edited by Terilyn A. Shropshire; music by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran; production designer, Paul Kirby; costume designer, Mary E. Vogt; produced by A.J. Dix, David Ellison, Marc Evans, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Beth Kono, and Charlize Theron; streamed by Netflix.

Starring Charlize Theron (Andy), KiKi Layne (Nile), Matthias Schoenaerts (Booker), Marwan Kenzari (Joe), Luca Marinelli (Nicky), Harry Melling (Merrick), Natacha Karam (Dizzy), Mette Towley (Jordan), Anamaria Marinca (Dr. Meta Kozak), Joey Ansah (Keane), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Copley).


Upload (2020) s01e08 – Shopping Other Digital After-Lives

The episode opens with Robbie Amell getting Andy Allo in trouble for their relationship. Except she can’t let him know she’s in trouble so when she gets sent home… he assumes she’s still at work. Only it’s her boss, Andrea Rosen, who shuts him down. See, he’s ready to commit to their romance.

He gets so upset at the rejection, he decides he’s going to leave the afterlife he’s in and shop around. He never wants to see Allo again. Also there’s the whole “fiancée Allegra Edwards pays for Amell’s afterlife and he wants to be independent” thing, which gets a lot of talk but never figures into much.

Until Edwards finds out Amell has left the afterlife of her choice and she teams up with Allo—who’s flown across the country (only a half hour though, right)—to let Edwards know about Amell “checking out.” So they confront his mom, Jessica Tuck, and try to get everything sorted out.

Even though there’s some shady person following them.

Sadly there’s no subplot involving Zainab Johnson. Instead it’s just Edwards, who’s not good, and Tuck, who’s not good. Edwards messes with Allo, Tuck messes with Amell. All the show ever tries to have going for it is Amell and Allo being cute together, looking like catalog models. Well, unless it’s Johnson. Then it seems to know it can do more.

But this episode isn’t just thin, it’s thin for “Upload.” It’s memorable because of the character team-ups, but we never really get to see anything interesting. When Allo starts perving on real-life and dead for a while now Amell’s clothes? The show doesn’t know how to make Allo cute when she’s creepy.

Because the show doesn’t really know how to do anything.

For “Upload,” it’s an engaging episode. It just never delivers on the comedy or the romance. And it really just puts the latter in a “do-over” position… the episode’s fairly pointless overall.

“Upload” would do better with less episodes.

Upload (2020) s01e07 – Bring Your Dad to Work Day

As a streaming sitcom, filler doesn’t feel the same way in “Upload” as it does in a regular sitcom. “Upload” is not chasing that syndication deal, which in theory wouldn’t affect the A plot—dead guy Robbie Amell falling in love with his living virtual—actual—assistant Andy Allo—much but the B plot involving Amell being murdered and his fiancée Allegra Edwards somehow being involved… the B plot seems like it’d be important since there are only ten episodes.

“Upload” doesn’t worry about it, instead turning in a more traditional sitcom episode. It fits the basic trajectory—Allo’s dad, Chris Williams, is slowly dying from his vape cancer (despite occasionally reminding, favorably, to the future news in Robocop, “Upload”’s predictions are usually basic and desperate)—and Allo has Amell show him around the virtual afterlife because she wants Williams to meet her potential fella.

It’d be amazing if they’d gotten someone with some charm for the Williams part. Or if they’d gotten someone with some chemistry opposite Amell, instead of the pair in a very forced class and maybe race clash and it’s unpleasant. “Upload” doesn’t have the capacity to ask hard questions; it’s outside the scope, something show creator Greg Daniels probably ought to remind the writers.

Speaking of writers… this episode’s script is from Owen Daniels, one of the regulars. He plays the virtual world’s A.I. assistant. It’s never as funny as it ought to be. Interesting how Daniels doesn’t give himself anything significant to do in this episode, instead plays it straight and subjects us to way too much Williams.

Some big subplot items this episode too, but the funniest thing ends up being Zainab Johnson. As usual. She loses a customer’s flash drive or whatever—containing the person’s data—and has to find it or else.

Allo’s got her investigating subplot, which is… eh. Though it certainly seems like it’s going to get moving given a sabotage subplot.

Allo’s been fine on the show—very likable, sometimes cute—but she has to carry her scenes with Williams and does a fairly admirable job of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the episode any better. It’s just nice to see her developing as an actor. Someone ought to get something out of “Upload.” Other than William B. Davis, relishing his performance as an eternal, ever evil Koch brother.

Upload (2020) s01e06 – Sleepover

Just as Allegra Edwards gets a redemption arc—two of them in fact—dead but living in a virtual reality simulation fiancé Robbie Amell starts getting close to his actual (vs. virtual) virtual assistant Andy Allo. Amell and Allo confide in one another about their suspicions regarding the A plot, which doesn’t usually get a lot of attention in “Upload” because the scripts are poorly plotted but whatever.

It’s “Upload,” there’s never much heavy lifting. Like when we find out Allo’s dad, Chris Williams, who’s dying from vape lung (no one knew it was dangerous until it was too late) and doesn’t want to be uploaded because he’s a Ludd (Luddite) goes on VR excursions using a joystick controller like it’s 1992. Because he just has to do the VR thing so much. It’s a weird (read, thoughtless) character detail and it doesn’t help Williams still isn’t very good. He’s better this episode. But he’s not good.

Edwards, on the other hand, is closer to being good than she’s ever been. She hangs out with Amell’s niece, Chloe Coleman, and ends up forming something of a human connection.

It’s too obvious and Edwards is too thin, writing and acting–but it’s a nice change. Especially since the episode otherwise just wanted to make simultaneously unpleasant and obvious jokes about how rude Edwards’s family members are to her and Coleman. And how rude Edwards is to her family members. It’s “Upload” doing social commentary and it’s a fail.

Much better is Zainab Johnson and Kevin Bigley’s pure comedy subplot. It makes absolutely no sense as far as the show’s established technology but whatever. At least it’s amusing. Johnson’s great. The show wastes a lot of performances, but Johnson’s able to succeed in a way no one else in the cast can manage.

Allo’s got a subplot about dating living real guy Matt Ward, but it’s mostly time killer. “Upload”’s middling comedy is a big improvement over its flaccid melodrama.

Upload (2020) s01e05 – The Grey Market

Does “Upload” have a show bible the writers ignore—in this case Mike Lawrence, who at least writes a funny enough episode even if it completely breaks with the show’s established future logics-or does the show not have a show bible. Because it doesn’t lean heavy enough into the sitcom to not have its utterly broken reality not appear utterly broken.

And it manages to do it on multiple levels.

The Grey Market is where Robbie Amell takes fellow Upload (dead person’s consciousness uploaded to The Matrix ™) Rhys Slack to the shady digital app vendor spot. Where you can get unofficial patches and upgrades to your Upload avatar, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but hey, it’s been long enough “Chappelle's Show” rips can be homage and not rips.

Slack is a kid—who fell into the Grand Canyon, making him a YouTube hit—whose parents keep him the same age as when he died even though he wants to go through puberty. It’s the foulmouthed kid trope, but at least it’s funny? This episode’s got more laughs than any other episode of “Upload.”

It also has a decided lack of Allegra Edwards, which works out. It shouldn’t be such a boon given the major reveal in the previous episode’s cliffhanger but Edwards is such a energy suck it’s better to skip the A plot than involve her.

Anyway. Amell’s babysitting Slack and Kevin Bigley—who oscillates from as bad as he seems to less bad than he seems—convinces him to go to the grey market so they can get hacks to go to the VR floors, where living people have avatars, and have virtual sex with real women… only without letting these real women know they’re dead guys.

It’s charming.

The episode does get to the right places eventually—surprisingly so—but it’s cheaply done. But also funnier than usual and without Edwards. Plus more Zainab Johnson, who’s at least good, even if her writing is thin.

Andy Allo’s got a subplot with her dad, Chris Williams, who’s nowhere near good enough in what should’ve been a stunt cast. But Allo’s effective even with the bad future setting writing.

And the cliffhanger is genuinely distressing.

Upload (2020) s01e04 – The Sex Suit

Watching “Upload” do sexy is… uncomfortable. And not just because Allegra Edwards is loathsome and the episode frequently promises she’ll not be around then keeps bringing her back around. She and lead Robbie Amell are in therapy now. They still haven’t had sex because Edwards thinks the suit is gross.

So at some point between last episode and this episode, they had that talk. Maybe it was cut for time. I doubt it but maybe.

Anyway, the big sexy moment in the episode is when Andy Allo has to assist Edwards and Amell when they’re getting jiggy. Turns out part of customer service means giving the Upload digital people… digital arousal assistance.

Do Allo and Amell really have a moment or is she just playing him or is it just part of her job… Eh. Allo and Amell are so obviously destined for romantic collision, even if the show just denies that development it’s still just playing a trope so it’s hard to get particularly invested in any of the episodic roadblocks.

So even though the episode’s often better than usual—script by Aasia LaShay Bullock—there’s no way to get really invested in Amell and Edwards’s therapy exercises or Amell telling Allo he doesn’t really love Edwards anymore and he wishes she wouldn’t have sex with him and on and on. It’s just runtime fodder. “Upload” is full of it.

There are some decent jokes and less Kevin Bigley, which is good, and more Josh Banday (as the night shift assistant), which is also good. Though Banday’s just there. He’s got nothing to do. Banday meanwhile gets material and is mediocre at it. I liked Bigley in the pilot episode too… he’s just pointless. “Upload” can’t even pretend its supporting cast and subplots are actually important, not even when they figure into murder plots.

The show’s a great example of streaming’s very low bar to clear acceptable.

Upload (2020) s01e03 – The Funeral

This episode opens with a Rupert “Tilford” (cough, cough, Murdoch)—played by Creed from “The Office”—paying to get his Upload mind put into a clone body. And he dies. More than any episode so far, this episode of “Upload” felt a little like they were trying for Robocop humor.

It’s better than Robocop 3 at least.

But we also find out Robbie Amell and Allegra Edwards were counting on that process—called, obviously, Download—to get Amell resurrected.

Someone should really work out how “Upload,” “Westworld,” and “Devs” exist in the same universe.

So the Rupert stuff comes up again later on in the episode, which is set at Amell’s funeral, where we find out he doesn’t have the friends he thought he had but his college girlfriends all come out to see him because he was the only MIT bro with any play.

The girlfriends aren’t there for Amell, rather his virtual assistant, Andy Allo. Well, wait, she’s his actual assistant, just for his virtual life. She goes to his funeral because she’s started to crush on him. And gets to see fiancée Edwards threaten to delete Amell from existence because she owns his account after all.

We get to check in with some of Amell’s family, but not really. The funeral scene is about Edwards being terrible and being terrible to Amell and Allo seeing it all. “Upload” has some pretty basic plotting.

Though, given that basic plotting, it’s surprising when the episode forgets to resolve the subplot about Edwards getting a sex suit so she and Amell can have some private time after his funeral. It’s not ghoulish, it’s hip.

But she thinks the suits are gross and didn’t get one but never tells Amell. Or never tells him in front of the cameras so it just seems like a plot hole.

The best thing in the episode is probably Elizabeth Bowen, as Amell’s cousin who’s investigating his death. She’s weird and funny about it, whereas the other weirdness goes without much comment.

I mean, the episode is all Edwards shrieking. There’s only so much it could ever do.

Upload (2020) s01e02 – Five Stars

The best part about “Upload” this episode is Cigarette Smoking Man William B. Davis as one of the “Choak” brothers, who has died and is now living his reward after ruining American society for decades. Because Davis is good. No qualifications, no asterisks, he’s just good.

Everything else in “Upload” comes with a caveat. Even, sort of, Allegra Edwards.

Edwards is lead Robbie Amell’s girlfriend. He’s dead and in “Upload”—you have your mind put on computer and then you exist forever in an app but capitalism so everything costs money–she’s his evil rich White woman fiancée. Basically Edwards needs to be Portia de Rossi in “Arrested Development” in 2003 for it to work and it’s not 2003 and Edwards isn’t de Rossi. And “Upload” isn’t “Arrested Development.”

So while Edwards is bad, the part is thin. So a caveat. Would Edwards be good if the part were good? Doesn’t seem like it. She’s a charisma vacuum.

As opposed to Andy Allo, who plays Amell’s “angel,” the customer service rep who waits on him hand and foot—digitally—and tries to sell him virtual goods as he goes through the iAfterlife. Allo’s full of charisma. Even more than Amell, which is something since the whole show is sold on the idea he’s charming.

He’s just a little much of a tech frat bro. To the point episode writer and director and show creator Greg Daniels gives Amell’s character thin backstory but taking up the amount of time real backstory would’ve taken. Is it intentionally shallow?

Maybe?

The stuff with Allo’s dating life, which is entirely sexual encounter and app-based—complete with a rating system (the episode title refers to Allo’s pursuit of better ratings as a customer service rep from her virtual charges)—is apparently the only way the not White people can have human connection while White people like Amell and Edwards live in a CW nighttime soap opera. It’s not entirely class and wealth-based—Amell’s supposed to have working class origins so as to clash with Edwards because “Upload” is often very lazy—but it does seem to be race-related. At least in the optics.

But whatever.

It’s also not worth thinking about too hard. No one else did. You’re just supposed to stan Allo and Amell and Allo and Amell make it easy to comply.

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