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For his first big TV project since The Office came to its delightful end (ahead of its dominant rise as a streaming must-have), Parks and Rec co-creator Greg Daniels crafted the cynically hopeful Upload for Amazon Prime Video. Starring the Arrowverse's Robbie Amell and R&B/soul/funk musician Andy Allo, Upload takes place in the near-future, centering on a company that created a high-end "afterlife" where people can store their consciousnesses before they die. It's a show that mixes poignant moments of humanity with digital magic in hilarious and unexpected ways, which some might call a hybrid of The Office and Harry Potter.
In fact, someone did call it that, and Greg Daniels is a fan of that notion. He spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of Upload's premiere on Amazon, and shared his thumbs up for the Harry Potter and Office comparison, and talked about how the new show fits in the world of TV workplace comedies.
Somebody described the show to me as The Office meets Harry Potter. To me, that's like...I was very happy with that comparison, because I'm a big Harry Potter fan. But yeah, there is an aspect in the show where from Nora's perspective, she goes to work in customer service at a big company and is sitting with her desk mates and everything, then she puts the VR glasses on and she's in this other sort of fanciful world. I don't know if this is the next workplace comedy. I think it's a little different.
Given that Upload tells a fairly serialized story about the mysterious circumstances behind the death of Robbie Amell's Nathan (among other plot points), it definitely stands apart from other shows in Greg Daniels' career. That said, it does share some similarities with The Office in that Nora's work situation is a bit over the top, and the boss in that scenario (played by Episodes' Andrea Rosen) is overbearing and often inappropriate. Plus, there's a "will they / won't they" element of romance for Nathan and Nora, who transcends her customer service label and develops a real relationship with Nathan, despite him being engaged to another woman. (Jim & Pam & Roy, anyone?)
Upload may not be strictly "magical," but its sci-fi-esque afterlife setting does allow for some reality-eschewing circumstances that feel pretty magical. But to hint at the show's Harry Potter-ness, the Lakeview hotel set-up is akin to Hogwarts, the show features framed pictures that move, and Nathan does get a powerful wand of sorts at one point during the first ten episodes. As well, Upload features an animal that other characters communicate with, though it's not exactly the same as Parseltongue or anything, and it's a dog.
Beyond, that comparison, Greg Daniels also talked about how Upload also serves an extension of the brighter and quirkier Parks and Recreation. In his words:
I feel like I did The Office, and then started Parks, and then went back and finished The Office, and the experience of that was so satisfying and complete that when I was thinking about what to do next – and [Upload] is the next thing that I've written since The Office finale – I don't know, I just kind of wanted to do something kind of more fun and intense, I guess. In terms of evolution, I love The Office, I love the the sort of realism of it and the poignancy of it, but definitely when I was doing Parks and Rec, Mike Schur and I talked about making it a more colorful experience. Kind of allowing it to be a little more lively and fun. And I think if there is like a progression, this is probably even more colorful.
For a prime example of how Upload works in relation to Parks and Recreation, the hyper-corporate and consumer-friendly Lakeview where Nathan lives (so to speak) is programmed to be as chipper and positive as Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope, while the real work where Nora lives is as stark and sterile as Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson, while also sometimes being as amusingly annoying as Jerry. One particular character is comparable to Aziz Ansari's Tom Haverford, too.
Considering a good majority of the show's scenes take place in a heaven-like setting, there are lots of big and small visual gags that appear at any given moment. From technical glitches to manufactured star displays to excess body parts, Upload isn't afraid of diving into absurd comedy when the situations calls for it, which usually means more complicated CGI is needed.
To that end, Greg Daniels compares his time with Upload to his earlier work on animated comedies such as King of the Hill and The Simpsons.
With all the special effects, visual effects, it's almost like a cartoon. so it's almost like going back to the stuff I did really early on. And in fact, when you work with visual effects artists, it's like working with animators because you're, you're kind of describing stuff that isn't there and then, you know, and they're like, really creative, but not in a performative way. So, it's fun to hang out with them.
Beyond the aforementioned Robbie Amell and Andy Allo, Upload also stars Sirens' Kevin Bigley as Nathan's Lakeview pal Luke, Briarpatch's Allegra Edwards as Nathan's girlfriend Ingrid, 100 Humans' Zainab Johnson as Nora's coworker Aleesha, Silicon Valley's Chris Williams as Nora's dad and the creator's son Owen Daniels as the uncomfortably amusing A.I. Guy. (The latter also served as a writer.)
Greg Daniels also has another show on the way in the sci-fi realm, as he reteamed with Steve Carrell and Ben Schwartz for the upcoming Netflix comedy Space Force which will be out this summer. While The Office has remained on everyone's minds thanks to John Krasinski's YouTube series and the Office Ladies podcast from Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, the full Parks and Rec cast also got together for a video reunion for NBC. The reunion ball is in your court now, Office cast.
Upload Season 1 is set to make its grand debut on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, May 1, at 12:01 a.m. ET. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more from our talk with Greg Daniels, as well as with the show's cast. For those in need of some laughs in the meantime, check out some other comedies on Amazon that are worth your attention.