The Workplace Comedy and Pandemic Politics in Greg Daniels’ Upload

Sean Brayton


This paper examines the critical potential and pedagogic possibilities of the workplace television comedy during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is particularly interested in Greg Daniels’ Upload, a series that debuted during the first wave of infections in North America. Although it was produced before the current health crisis, Upload offers a prescient social commentary on the depravities of late capitalism, one that speaks to present concerns over access to vital health resources and the importance of “essential” workers, specifically in the service industry. However, Upload is driven by a liberal version of multiculturalism that emphasizes racial equality and ostensibly recognizes “difference” but downplays economic disparities and racial divisions of labor even as it draws on them repeatedly in its critique of inequality. Whereas the series effectively challenges the monetization of everyday life and death, a point of praise for many critics, it fails to disrupt or even call attention to how low-wage and purportedly low-skilled work is currently and historically racialized in the US. As a result, Upload’s efficacy as a social commentary and indictment of late capitalism is more interested in the unequal distribution of essential resources and services than the political economy of their provision, that is, the social relations of their production.

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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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