‘Upright’: Quite Alright!

(Photo: Milly Alcock and Tim Minchin in ‘Upright,’ courtesy Sundance Now. Photo by Matt Nettheim)

“It’s awfully different without you,
Don’t get around much anymore.”

That refrain from a classic Duke Ellington song, sung in flashbacks by a young, piano-playing Lucky Flynn, is the only clue we’ll give toward solving the slowly unraveling mystery of Upright, a highly recommended eight-episode miniseries debuting Thursday, August 6, on subscription streamer Sundance Now.

But Upright isn’t a mystery series. Wikipedia dubs it a drama and IMDb says it’s a comedy. “There’s also action and adventure in it, and it looks beautiful,” added Judd Apatow (The King of Staten Island, Freaks and Geeks) in a recent online Q&A with Tim Minchin, Upright’s co-creator, co-composer, co-writer, co-director and co-star.

Subscription streaming, noted Minchin, “has broken down the barriers between drama and comedy.”

We’ll just call Upright a road movie — although one broken down into eight half-hour TV episodes. Minchin plays the grown-up 40-something Lucky, who finds himself on a bizarre eight-day journey of discovery across the Australian desert with young teenager Meg. Along the way, though, you start to seriously question who’s the adult and who’s the child.

Neither Lucky nor Meg possess anything of much value, save a piano that Lucky is bringing back to his family home, where his mother lies dying. Lucky is “carrying a burden, which happens to be a piano,” Minchen told Apatow. “Then he meets this other mess of a person.”

Meg, running away from her father, is played by Milly Alcock. She delivers the best performance of a precocious kid on the road with an irresponsible male father figure since Tatum O’Neal’s Oscar-winning turn in 1974’s Paper Moon.  

“She’s so natural and funny,” Apatow told Minchin, ”like a megastar you’ll be seeing for the next 50 years….[And] you and MIllie are like an old-time comedy team.”

Unlike in Ellington’s song, Lucky and Meg get around a lot in a story that includes a camel funeral, a stolen car, a stolen horse, a pink lake, highway thieves, cliff-top parties, an underworld fighting ring, a motorcycle gang, and an ill-fated “ute” — which we needed to look up to find that the word is Australian for a pick-up truck.

Ute, though, was the only part of Upright that required translating into American English. Perhaps that’s because the series also needed to appeal to a British audience, being a co-production of the UK’s Sky Atlantic,  where it premiered in late November 2019, and Foxtel’s Showcase in Australia, where it debuted a few days later.

Sundance Now, which will drop two Upright episodes each consecutive Thursday from August 6 through August 27, offers a seven-day free trial. But use code VOW at checkout to get 30 free days — and Sundance Now will also make a donation to that charity, whose mission is to end child marriage.

You can then keep the service – which specializes in true crime, dramas and thrillers from around the world — for $6.99 a month or $59.99 annually ($4.99 a month). For more info or to subscribe, visit sundancenow.com.

And here, via Austin’s ATX Television Festival, is the Apatow/Minchin Q&A. We’d recommended streaming it, as the live online audience did, after watching the first two episodes of Upright.

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About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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