Upload was pioneering the metaverse long before the virtual reality (VR) multiverse concept entered the mainstream. As technology-based companies race to become the metaverse’s so-called inventor – if such a term can be used – the Prime Video show’s creator Greg Daniels can’t help but raise a smile at Upload’s seemingly trailblazing nature.
“The funny thing to me is that Meta [Facebook’s new parent company] has named its metaverse project ‘Horizon’,” Daniels tells TechRadar. “That’s the name of our show’s metaverse-style company, which is called ‘Horizen’. It’s amusing that they’ve used the same title as us, even though it’s spelled differently!”
Daniels and Upload’s cast can certainly joke that they’re the true visionaries of an idea such as the metaverse. The sci-fi comedy series’ exploration of a hybrid VR/real-life world, alongside its witty and eclectic characters and its compelling plot, made it a hit with audiences after its initial May 2020 release. With the concept of the metaverse entering public consciousness during the show’s two-year hiatus, Upload season 2 is well placed to continue its comedic examination of a concept that may prove to be yet another technological gimmick.
Ahead of Upload’s Prime Video return on March 11, we sat down with Daniels and the show’s cast to discuss season 2’s multi-genre plot, metaverse musings, and the prospects for a third season.
Set some time after the first season’s finale, Upload season 2 finds Nathan (Robbie Amell) at a digital afterlife crossroads. His ex-girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) has ‘uploaded’ herself to Horizen’s Lakeview hotel in a bid to win him back. Nathan, though, longs to be reunited with Horizen customer service angel Nora (Andy Allo), who has gone off-grid to escape the same shady company that murdered Nathan in the show’s premiere.
The pair’s burgeoning relationship, too, lies in tatters. Before going offline, Nora was heartbroken when Nathan didn’t appear to reciprocate her love for him. Unbeknownst to Nora, though, Nathan was trapped in ‘zero gigabyte’ hell after he used the last of his data expressing shock at Ingrid’s arrival, meaning he couldn’t respond in kind. This was after Nathan imprisoned himself in ‘2 Gig’, Lakeview’s basement-level floor where its low income residents reside, after he betrayed his business partner in the real world before his death.
Despite these crossed wires, Nathan and Nora’s separation is an epiphanous moment for the latter. As Allo reveals, the duo’s parting provides Nora with the room to find her voice as an individual.
“This season really sets Nora up in a way that we didn’t see previously,” Allo says. “In season one, she's so invested in other people's lives and isn't sure why she's doing things. She comes into her own and realizes who she is away from the men in her life. Even though it might rub some people the wrong way, she comes into her own power, even if it makes others uncomfortable.”
Ingrid’s character evolution is somewhat stunted by comparison. Without spoiling much, the third wheel in Upload’s complicated love triangle finds herself torn between key aspects of her life. It’s this loneliness, Edwards explains, that leads to Ingrid’s immature compulsions, even if they’re subconsciously well-meaning.
“The one constant for Ingrid in season two is that we get more of that sense of longing that's in her spirit,” she says. “And I'm hoping audiences will see just how isolated she is. She's just not equipped in the same way that other people of her age are to express what she really wants and needs. So it was fascinating to dive in and explore that more thoroughly.”
It isn’t just relationships between the show’s main trio that take some surprising turns. Nora’s fellow Horizen employee Aleesha (Zainab Johnson) and Nathan’s fellow Lakeview resident Luke (Kevin Bigley) find their friendships – with Nora and Nathan – tested throughout in scenarios that see them call out their buddies’ questionable behavior. It’s this human touch that, for a series that explores sci-fi themes and technological advancements in detail, sets Upload apart from similar genre offerings.
“If we’re not careful, Luke can be played in one note where he’s just yelling, running around, or being the comedy relief,” Bigley says. “So we have to ensure there are levels to him. The cool thing for this season is he checks Nathan on some things, and Greg wrote some great lines that bring a genuineness to their friendship. It’s a careful balancing act, but one that helps Luke shine more this time around.”
“Seeing this discourse in Nora and Aleesha’s friendship was difficult,” Johnson adds. “But audiences want to see those kinds of relationships on screen. We talk about income disparities and technology a lot, but the heart of the show is the relationships between these people. You don’t always agree with your family and friends, and things you say or do can drive a wedge between you. We felt compelled to show all those facets in season 2.”
With Upload’s first season allowing Daniels to see what worked – “it’s a richer experience to do season 2 as we can see what audiences liked” – and what didn’t, the show’s next installment feels narratively tighter and funnier than its predecessor.
Still, like a computer’s operating system, Upload season 2 undergoes a system reboot of sorts. Despite its billing as a sci-fi comedy series, Upload integrated murder mystery genre elements into the first season’s plot. Its successor goes even further, introducing spy thriller, action, and even horror tropes into the equation.
Daniels’ penchant for working on multi-genre projects harks back to his roots as a writer on shows, including The Simpsons and The Office US, that combined various genre elements. Like Bigley’s Upload character, Daniels believes the best way to keep audiences engaged is to continually freshen up a show’s formula.
“I mostly come from comedy and romance backgrounds,” he says. “But, as a fellow entertainment consumer, I love other genres. Sci-fi horror can actually be very funny in an intense and jarring way, so I enjoy mixing it up. I think the key is surprising audiences; the more you stick to one genre, the harder it is to shock them. If you allow yourself to blend genres together, it’s easier to surprise them. and more fun from a writer’s perspective.”
That blending characteristic extends far beyond Upload’s multi-genre appearance. Until recently, the show’s mix of the real world and virtual reality simulations had seemed like a far-future sci-fi concept.
The arrival of the metaverse, a VR universe where avatars – computer-generated representations of real-life people – can exist in simulated realities, though, changes that. Apple, Disney, Meta, and Microsoft are just some of the companies competing to create the world’s inaugural metaverse. And, while Daniels can’t help but dryly suggest that Upload is the proprietor of such a virtual concept, he delivers an excited but cautionary message about the metaverse becoming a reality. It’s one worth noting, too, when it’s clear how current technologies like social media and mobile phones run (and potentially ruin) our lives.
“I think the metaverse is where we’re going,” he muses. “But Upload is a show that heads beyond what the metaverse may be capable of. In Upload, which is set 15 years from now, the metaverse has become so pervasive, and the video quality so high that it’s photorealistic, that people are living and spending their entire workday there.
“I think the metaverse’s arrival is great for the show, and it’ll catch up with the kind of technology that we conceived for Upload. We’re just sort of anticipating what it’ll be like when it’s widespread, and it’s fun to preview from a comedy perspective. But we also need to ensure that this technology doesn’t replace, or try to replicate, the world we live in now.”
It’s unclear how the metaverse’s arrival in the real world – or alongside the real world might be a better way of putting it – will impact future Upload seasons. Daniels already has plans for season 3 and is holding out hope for the show’s renewal.
“A lot of work has gone into it,” he says. “We don’t know if we’ll have a third season, but indications are very positive. Everybody seems to like the show, so we’ll see. We’re optimistically planning for it.”
If Upload season 3 is greenlit by Amazon Studios, it’ll be interesting to see how much of the real world’s metaverse development will be drafted into the show. Like Daniels, various technology-based companies are “optimistically planning” for the metaverse’s official launch – that is, if such a time comes.
Still, if it fails to get off the ground, we’ll have Upload’s fictionalized version of the metaverse to entertain us. And, if dystopian-centric metaverse-style works of fiction, such as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, are to be believed, maybe a metaverse-less world will be for the best.
Upload season 2 launches exclusively on Prime Video on Friday, March 11.
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