Greg Daniels

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.

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.

Space Force (2020)

Unloved and Misunderstood

“Space Force” | Season one, 10 episodes | Netflix, 2020

While comedic sitcoms usually take a while to find their footing on the way to a successful vehicle, the creators of “Space Force” seem to be striding the fence here in their pursuit of a balance between comedy and darker social satire. Steve Carnell and Greg Daniels have literally packed each 30 min episode with enough material to stretch it to an hour, but that would effect the flow too much, so “Space Force” conforms to the half hour format in hopes of finding an audience with the average limited attention span for comedies these days.

Carnell plays the general in charge of Space Force, Trump’s latest invention to keep his simple take on reality and romantic notion of what armed forces should be now. Now I should state that Trump is never mentioned by name, nor are really any references here specific, but alert sycophants should pick it up they’re talking about here and now. While some of these jokes are simple and obvious, “Space Force” is loaded with quieter, subtler, textural elements that belie more than just your typical half hour sitcom.

First, casting John Malkovich as his civilian counterpart, is a perfect compliment/foil for Carell’s by the numbers, stiff, obedient military character. They really don’t plow against one another in the typical protagonist/antagonist relationship, but rather compliment each other in their cooperation and clashes, bringing for a genuinely unique approach to what one would be expecting from such a relationship. The setting of “Space Force,” with its pseudo sci-fi action genre, makes the most of the thirty minute drive toward a conclusion with lots of tidbits that you have to look for to appreciate totally. It’s not necessarily about the absurd reality of its situation, but the reactions and motivations of its characters here that keep you interested. The nuances of their relationships, coinciding with the genuinely human dictates of what they’re about drive your interest.

It has plenty of humor, but no laugh tracks here, you either are paying attention and getting the jibes, or you’re not, which is ok. The serious manner depicting its characters gives it a feel of caring and understanding, not two dimensional characters in service of the unusual two plot story carried to a neat conclusion, but gives it an outlier feel.

Also present in this dramedy are some solid use of bit casting, giving its humor weight and double take seriousness for a two edged sword type of approach. While it’s finding its way, Space Force never goes the easy route in its ten episodes (except for perhaps the one featuring a competition between two warring military factions to control Space Force). Also wildly unusual are Carell’s relationships with his wife (Lisa Kudrow, of all actors, who was thrown in jail for life after the first episode for a reason we still don’t know), his complicated, uncomfortable yet very funny scenes with a female head contractor at the base, and his abrasive, yet acceptable ones with his rival heads of the other branches of the armed services of whom Space Force is consuming larger monetary budgets than theirs. Jimmy Yang, quietly and carefully understated as Malkovich’s head assistant, and Tawny Hewsome, as Carell’s aide de camp in a spectrum of roles, are fleshed out nicely, and add greatly to overall recipe. Perhaps Diana Silvers, as his put upon daughter, is still in its developmental infancy stage, is the least satisfying, but since she plays it straight and isn’t out of place I’ll forgive this.

The stories of “Space Force” aren’t just about the ridiculousness of the current world and of the current Washington administration, or even the semi fantasy world the characters live in. While it’s finding its feet in its first ten episodes while trying something different, it succeeds more often than not, and I genuinely hope to see a second to witness whether they succeed. A personal experiment for Carell and Daniels, one that deserves to find an audience and reach its conclusion.

Upload (2020) s01e01 – Welcome to Upload

“Upload” takes place in a mundane future dystopia where Bloomingdales runs liquor stores and Panera Bread was able to acquire Facebook. The most oddly prescient bit has a bunch of people on the packed commuter train wearing masks. Worker drones take the train it seems like. The middle class and above have self-driving cars, which are apparently super safe.

Or at least after Robbie Amell dies in a self-driving car accident, everyone is surprised because they’re supposed to be so safe.

Amell’s not dead dead, however, because in this future you get to live as long as the company who provides your digital afterlife can keep the servers running. Amell and pal Jordan Johnson-Hinds are trying to design a freeware version and they’re almost done but then he oddly and tragically dies.

Also wouldn’t you know he’s dating a woman who’s an heiress to the biggest in-app purchase version of the afterlife? So much intrigue.

The show doesn’t do well with the intrigue. It does a lot better with Amell bonding with his handler, Andy Allo; Allo’s job is to make sure Amell doesn’t reject his new reality and go jump into a giant data stream and incinerate himself or something. It also doesn’t make sense why they couldn’t re-upload him; though that one is so obvious they’re going to have to address it.

This first episode is overlong—it’s going to be a half hour or so but they stretch the pilot out to forty minutes, which seems like a perfectly good half hour pilot bulked out with the suspicious girlfriend (Allegra Edwards’s obnoxious) and the intrigue.

There are some good laughs—a lot of them considering the protagonist is dead—and pretty much everyone but Edwards is fine. Allo’s better than Amell but they’re both more likable than good. Kevin Bigley’s solid as Amell’s first fellow dead guy friend (Bigley killed himself after losing his legs in the Iran War, so “Upload”’s full of optimism for American Imperialism).

It’ll be interesting to see if the show can maintain so much product placement—you can buy all the soda brands and all the fast food in the afterlife. But not Amell because Edwards controls his in-app purchases and stalks him from the real world.

There are some weird jokes—Amell asking Allo if there’s slavery in Heaven, which writer, director, and show creator Greg Daniels doesn’t seem to know how to execute (or does and it just doesn’t fly)—but the bit about men in the afterlife being able to pee in the urinal from across the room in a steady, infinite stream is… accurate. You know the dude programmers would add that feature.

I’m far from sold on the first one but hopefully the issues are just pilot flitters.

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