Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Seasons of original shows on Amazon Prime seem to run eight or ten episodes. It's a curious length. I grew up with U.K. television series lasting about that long but I'm used to American seasons stretching out for twenty weeks or more to fit the way Network schedules used to align with the calendar. There's a reason they call them "Seasons", after all.

Freed from those constraints I guess it makes sense to take smaller bites, especially when you take into account the tendency to let the whole thing go at once. Eight episodes makes for a handy weekend mini-binge.

I try not to do that. For series that come in single figures I try to ration myself to one a day. Or one a night, since that's when I watch. I've come semi-circle (not full) from TV advocacy in the eighties/nineties through abstinence in the oughts to what I like to feel is a balanced stance today.

After Tales from the Loop, which turned out to be every bit as good as I'd hoped, I moved on to another science fiction-inflected original, Upload, a brand-new show debuting this month. As the trailer says, it's from "The guy that brought you The Office and Parks and Recreation" only I didn't watch the trailer until later so I didn't know that. Also I've never seen The Office, either version.

I have seen Parks and Receation, though. It's superb. That might have swayed me, had I known. The trailer certainly wouldn't. It's a terrible advertisement for the show. Yes, it is partly a romcom with a lot of rather unsubtle social satire ladled on top but it's more a murder mystery and a lot better than the trailer would suggest.

I'd definitely reccommend Upload. It's smart and funny and has an involving if highly unoriginal plot. Its big strength is some very strong, nuanced characters. Andi Allo, once a singer and guitarist in Prince's New Power Generation, has been drawing all the attention for her turn as Nora and she is a warm and inviting presence but for my money the most interesting performance comes from Allegra Edwards in the far less likeable but unsettlingly nuanced role of Ingrid.

With only ten episodes, I was through Upload in not much over a week. I sped up a bit towards the end. Watched a couple of episodes back to back. Hard to resist doing that.

Amazon, naturally, uses algorithms to suggest things you might want to watch next. One of the shows it put in front of me after Upload finished was the very similarly-named Undone. Makes you wonder whether they're sorting these things by subject and theme or just going with the closest character match.

Luckily, Undone is another top choice. Better than Upload?  Maybe, although I'm not sure it makes much sense to compare the two. They have some similarities, sure, particularly in the female leads and the murder mystery backdrop and the "from the guys that brought you" pitch (in this case, those would be the guys that brought you Bojack Horseman, a show I really want to see...) but they're more different than they are alike. At least the trailer's better, we can all agree on that.

Undone came out last September but I didn't notice it back then. It's  Amazon's first original animated series, although I sometimes balk at including rotoscoped motion capture in "animation". Where Upload's reviews are somewhat mixed (people seem either to absolutely love it or think it's very weak), Undone has had almost universal critical approval and I can see why.

It's a very adult show, something I also felt keenly with Tales from the Loop. Very much television for grown-ups. That's definitely down to the outstanding writing, but I also believe it has much to do with process. Animation always drags a huge weight of history along, pegging anything that smacks of cartooning as for kids, but I have a strong suspicion rotoscope imparts a gravitas that's not always fairly earned. It's a paradox.

Something about the cleanliness of the surfaces, the ability to include only what's wanted, combined with the eerie sense of watching real people (which we are) conspires to elevate the experience somehow, make it feel more important, give it depth. A heightened reality. That's certainly the case here, where the acting is exemplary, the illustration overwhelming.

Undone triggers me. It might be argued I see Philip K Dick in everything but he's here for sure, not just in the fracturing of reality but in the stylistic hat-tip to the stone-age mo-cap of A Scanner Darkly. I was minded also, at all times, of the Hernandez brothers' classic work on Love and Rockets. It's a more dangerous comparison. Lazy, maybe. Latinx characters, ligne claire by way of Riverdale High... an easy conclusion to jump but I'll stand by it.

It's more than surface. Alma's spiky, punk attitude, the relationship between her and sister Becca, their physicality - Alma gamine, Becca womanly - all vibe Hopey and Maggie. And I speak as someone who once had photocopies of the two of them all over my walls.

Love and Rockets also operated in the liminal space between the quotidian and the fantastic and so does Undone, albeit much more quietly. There are no rockets, for a start.

There is quantum entanglement, though, and timeshifting. And pre-Columbian mysticism. Or maybe it's all just in Alma's scattered mind. A car crash, PTSD and a family history of schizophrenia might lead you to see things that way.

Upload and Undone have both been picked up for second series, just as well since they both end, if not on cliffhangers, then on open questions. This is the part of watching new stuff I don't much relish. The waiting. Then again, with things as they are these days, who can afford to leave it for the box set?


  1. I liked Upload well enough and am looking forward to its 2nd season.

    I'll have to give Undone a look. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Alright, this is at least the second post on Upload I've seen now. I'm going to have to give it a go. Right when I was close to pausing the Amazon Prime subscription again too. ;)

    1. It's a bit all over the place, tonally, but it's entertaining. Second season should be interesting.That's going to be a while, though. The second season of Undone shouldn't be too long coming, unless the pandemic has set it back.


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