Greg Daniels has been working on Upload for a very long time.
In fact, the buzzy sci-fi series, out today on Amazon Prime Video, has been sitting in The Office writer’s notebook since his first major TV job over thirty years ago.
“So I’m in New York working for Saturday Night Live and I’m wandering around the streets with this reporter’s notebook, trying to think of ideas,” Daniels tells Mashable over the phone. “And I went past one of those electronic shops down in Midtown — they were talking digital versus analog in some display — and I started thinking about what would be the ultimate thing that you could digitize.”
A life-long lover of futuristic fiction, Daniels soon imagined a world where people had the option to digitally clone themselves before death, effectively forgoing the pearly gates for a Sims-adjacent afterlife. Eternally tethered to their loved ones (and a hard drive), these pioneering souls could triumph over mortality through a high-tech solution.
It’s an innovative slate that provides ample opportunity to explore the big questions of human experience: right versus wrong, what really matters in life, how we want to be remembered, and more. Of course, that’s not an SNL sketch. So, over the following decades, Daniels tried it as a short story, then a book proposal, and finally as a TV show ripe for streaming.
After all, it’s a great idea — one aren’t hesitating to compare with someone else’s great idea. When I bring up Mike Schur, Daniels’ Parks and Recreation co-creator, he knows exactly where we’re headed: The Good Place.
“Then later, when I realized he’d done The Good Place? Oy vey.”
Schur’s afterlife-centric series, synonymous with from 2016 to 2019, won the hearts of NBC viewers everywhere. It was inventive, hilarious, addicting, and entertaining. Its cast and crew earned Golden Globe nominations, Emmy Awards, Critics’ Choice picks, and more. In 2019, the series was honored with a Peabody. Right now, I’m betting you can see the show’s banana-colored ad campaign complete with Kristen Bell’s smiling face in your mind’s eye.
Now, Daniels has never seen The Good Place. But its legacy? Well, that’s hung over him and Upload since production began.
“So, the funny thing is I had dinner with Mike in 2016,” Daniels recalls. “And he was like, ‘How’s it going with your project?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, you know, I just turned in the first draft.’ And he says, ‘Oh, I just wrote something too.’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, we ought to exchange it and read it.’ And we never did. Then later, when I realized he’d done The Good Place? Oy vey.”
Naturally, the similarity in subject matter raised alarm bells for Daniels. He’s quick to point out no one creator can monopolize a genre — ”You can’t be like, ‘I did a medical show and then somebody else did another show set in a hospital?! God damn it!’” — and Schur wasn’t the first (or even most recent) creator to wonder what happens when we die.
But genre competition wasn’t the only obstacle Daniels faced when it came to entering Schur’s presumed domain. In addition to co-creating Parks and Rec, Daniels and Schur both cut their teeth at SNL, wrote for many years on The Office, and share an approach to humor that has frequently gotten them clumped together in analyses of modern comedy.
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