WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Devs, now streaming on Hulu.
Devs, the captivating miniseries from Ex Machina and Annihilation director Alex Garland, follows Lily Chan, a programmer at a quantum computing company who’s prompted by her boyfriend’s apparent suicide to investigate her employer. It’s revealed the company’s big secret project was software that could predict the future. The series ends with the deaths of Lily and her boss, Forest, which he anticipated from watching the fateful day in advance. They move on to an afterlife Forest had set up.
The afterlife is simply a simulation of the world starting a day before Lily’s boyfriend’s death, with one major difference: Forest’s deceased daughter is alive. Forest gets to watch his daughter grow up, and Lily gets to take everything she knows to put her life in the direction she wants. It’s an oddly happy ending considering how serious the show is and the downbeat notes Garland’s films end on.
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An upcoming show that explores the afterlife in a more light-hearted fashion is Upload, which premieres May 1 on Amazon Prime. Created by Greg Daniels, who worked on The Office and Parks and Rec, the series follows a man who enters an afterlife that appears to be set up by a corporation, with extra fees and in-app purchases. Like in Devs, this afterlife is also made possible by the technology.
As different as the two shows are, each of their depictions of the afterlife would seem to better fit the tone of the other. After eight episodes of suspense, murder and mystery, Devs gives its characters a world where the worst days of their lives never happened. After providing humor and calming visuals for a minute, the trailer for Upload reveals this afterlife contains some of the major inconveniences that come with modern technology. On the surface, this dichotomy may feel strange but makes sense given how they each view technology and the modern TV landscape.
A major difference is the audinece for said afterlife. While in Upload, the corporation in power creates the afterlife as an impersonal corporate product, the technology in Devs is specifically made for Forest’s personal use. While Forest runs Amaya, his motivation for the Devs project is more personal than a corporate product. He creates an ideal afterlife because he wants his perfect ending. It also fits the shows themes that he wants to live in a world where his personal choices affect his life after spending so long believing that everything is predetermined.
While we don’t know too much about the corporation in Upload, it’s fitting that they reflect common complaints about products in real life. The common perception of big businesses is they don’t care about people, only money. This endless pursuit to find new ways to squeeze money out of every turn has created frustrations for customers of various industries like video games and airline travel.
The dichotomy reflects our belief as a society that we can trust an individual with their own human emotions, but we can’t trust corporations to treat their consumers in the same personal manner. They may be run by people, but as a whole their goal is to make money which often opposes our well-being. So why make this a comedy? It’s easier to digest.
We live in a media age where humor is used to discuss serious topics more than ever. Many people don’t like the difficulty that comes with discussing these issues, so they turn to comedy to lighten the load. People process politics through late-night comedy shows, and deal with heavy real-world issues in sitcoms like Bojack Horseman. Compared to the past, modern comedies try to be extra aware of the real-world implications their characters and messages have, and thus tend to reflect issues more accurately than their predecessors.
Serious shows like Devs clearly aren’t on their way out, but just as comedies now deal in darker territory, dramas can exercise greater emotional range. Good things happen between and alongside the bad. More and more TV shows are finding the balance of highs and lows to keep an audience’s attention and make a bigger impact when delivering a message.
Written and directed by Alex Garland, Devs stars Sonoya Mizumo, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Alison Pill. All eight episodes are available to stream on Hulu.
Created by Greg Daniels, Upload stars Robbie Ammell, Andy Allo, Chris Williams and Kevin Bigley. It premieres on Amazon Prime May 1.
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