Parks and Recreation ended its run last night after seven seasons in a turbulent primetime NBC slot. It was a witty, endearing show that became so good it elevated the careers of almost every cast member. After last season's finale flashed forward three years to 2017, we learned that the show was going to stick to that time jump, and the show's creator Mike Schur was quoted as saying that Parks would become "very gently sci-fi" in its final season.
That may have been a bit of an understatement. Every episode was filled with both subtle and obvious glimpses of a noticeably different society. Many of the ideas presented by the writers are used for laughs, but like any good sci-fi we can use what's depicted to reflect on what our current society is like, and where we want it to go. (The series finale took this even further, but I've left that out for the sake of spoiling it.) So in honor of the curtain closing on Parks, here's a comprehensive look at the future that the writers painted with the final season. As lifestyle guru Annabel Porter says in the third episode: "Come with me as we binge-watch the future!"
Everyone has holographic glass phones and tablets
Everyone except for Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), that is. The most noticeable statement Parks and Recreation's final season makes about the future is about the form and function of mobile devices. Thin, glassy phones and tablets have replaced the ones made with metal and plastic, and they are everywhere. You can see them in just about every episode in the hands of the main cast and on the desks of senators — even John McCain has one. The devices appear to use a sort of holographic display instead of the traditional screens we're used to, and the interaction is done almost exclusively with gestures. (Schur told BuzzFeed that he had the actors make up the movements in the moment, and the graphics were designed accordingly in post-production.) On top of all that, some of the devices fold up (an idea we've long seen rumored), and some even have rideable attachments.
Technology companies are terrifying
A major part of this and last season's story arc involves Gryzzl, the social media and technology company that acts as Parks' stand-in for Facebook, Google, Amazon, and any other company the show's writers want to comment on. The company's mission is read to us by its "vice president of cool new shizz" Roscoe Santangelo (Jorma Taccone): "Wouldn't it be tight if everyone was chill to each other?" After the company is accused of data-mining, tracking users, and worse, he elaborates: "We are hella chill," he says. "And frankly, if you don't like our vibe, you don't have to use our shizz."
As we found out in the episode (and throughout the season), Gryzzl is anything but chill. The tension comes to a head when Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) pleads for sanity during a speech that might as well have been directed right at the camera. "The internet is no longer optional, it's a necessity for everyone," he says. "A person should not have to have an advanced law degree to avoid being taken advantage of by a multi-billion dollar company. You should be up front about what you're doing, and allow people the ability to opt out."
Drone delivery exists, but it's probably not common
While the FAA recently outlined parameters for commercial drone use, we're still along way from Amazon's vision of drones delivering packages right to your doorstep. In Parks' vision of the future, however, Gryzzl has been able to cut through the red tape. And based on the characters' surprise, it's likely that the social media company is one of the first to use the technology this way. What's more sinister is that Gryzzl's hexacopters are dropping off boxes full of unsolicited goodies that appear to have been picked on information the company data-mined. Throughout the entire season, however, the word "drone" is never used.
Drones are also being shot out of the skies
Many people are wary of a future where drones are a common fixture in the sky, perhaps rightfully so. One of the most popular knee-jerk reactions to drone news in today's world involves gun owners fantasizing about shooting the unmanned aircraft out of the sky, and apparently things are no different in future Pawnee. When a package is delivered by one of Gryzzl's drones to the off-the-grid four-year-old son of Ron Swanson, the former Parks director shoots the hexacopter out of the sky and drags its metal corpse through a rainstorm to the home of Leslie and Ben. It's a dramatic moment that serves as a turning point in the season's story arc (until then Ron had been siding with Gryzzl because of his company's contract with the social media giant), but it also is one of the most on-the-nose statements about technology in the entire season.
Wearables are almost nowhere in sight
We're currently in the middle of a wearables boom; almost everything we saw at this year's CES had some sort of fitness tracking functionality built in, and it seems like every "dumb" object is becoming connected. Yet almost no wearables are spotted in the 2017 we see depicted on Parks and Recreation. There are a few possible reasons for that. One is that fitness tracking has integrated seamlessly into the futuristic phones everyone totes around. Another is that the technology has shrunk in size that wearables are finally legitimately discreet. All we know is that the only one shown on air during the final season sits on the wrist of Gryzzl's VP, and he seems to only use it for one thing: to remind him of his "meeting" at 4:20PM.
VR and AR technology is apparently still just a toy for the privileged
Even though phones and tablets are using holographic tech, VR and AR still haven't caught on with most citizens. They do show up in a couple places, though. Perfume entrepreneur Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas) is seen using both — in one scene we see him using a Gryzzl-branded Oculus Rift (which still isn't wireless) to experience an "intimate" encounter, and in another he's wearing GryzzlGlass, which is the Parks version of Google Glass. The upper limit of VR is seen when a handful of characters tour the Gryzzl headquarters. There we see an employee wearing a visor-sized headset and what looks like a haptic feedback glove.
Phablets are still around
Most characters spend the final season toting around translucent, holographic phones. Despite how common that flashy technology appears to be, a few phablets can still be spotted here and there. Kathryn Hahn's character spends multiple episodes using what appears to be a hefty Nokia phone. Is Windows Phone the OS of choice for people who don't like holograms in the future?
Gryzzl is exploiting people's personal data and using tablets to read people's moods
A major story arc of last season was when the Parks gang won the bid for Gryzzl to move to Pawnee and start a free wifi program. It's also the company responsible for providing most of the futuristic phones and tablets in the town. The honeymoon ends quickly when the main cast figures out that Gryzzl has been using a loophole in the agreement to freely data-mine the residents. On top of that, it's discovered that the tablets Gryzzl provided are always watching and reading the moods of the residents that use them. (This leads to a great gag in the premiere where buggy AI software causes one tablet tells a character "I love your skin!" before flashing red and yelling, "Give me your skin!") The reason why Ben Wyatt missed the loophole in the first place? Gryzzl added it on December 18th, 2015 — the release date of Star Wars Episode VI: The Force Awakens.
Verizon, Exxon, and Chipotle have merged
The Comcast merger apocalypse still hasn't happened for us, but in the future on Parks and Recreation the American corporate landscape is much, much different. Verizon, Exxon, and Chipotle have merged to form a terrifying three-headed corporate hydra that is apparently one of just eight remaining companies. At least they're offering a 6G network (and chicken tacos).
We're still interacting with gestures
Whether it's phones, tablets, or televisions, basically every screen that Pawneeans interact with in the final season works with some kind of gesture-based interaction. Some gestures look short and precise, but a lot of them (likely thanks to the actors) look unruly and tiresome. Hopefully by the time we get to 2017 there will be a better way to interact with devices of the future.
Men's rights activists are still a thing
"Men have had a very rough go of it for... just recently," says the meek leader of the Male Men, a men's rights activist group run by a wonderfully cast Chris Gethard. The group shows up to protest when Ben Wyatt enters a candidate's wife pie contest in place of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), but it's Knope who quiets them later in the episode: "Men's rights is nothing."
Private space travel exists
It's probably pretty exclusive, and it doesn't come cheap, but for $600,000 you can fly to space in the 2017 we see in the final season of Parks. Paul Rudd returned one last time to portray the buffoonish heir to Newport family fortune, and he made it sound like going to space was as common as vacationing in Muncie: "have you ever been to space? You should check it out!" According to him, however, Russia is still apparently building the rockets in this future.
Hitch 2: Son of a Hitch exists
The sequel to Hitch, which stars Jaden Smith, is one of many off-hand remarks about the cultural landscape of this version of 2017. Others include:
- Elton John owns Chick-Fil-A.
- The word "normcore" still gets used.
- Shia LaBeouf is a successful wedding dress and jewelry designer.
- Jermaine Jackson is dead and has a ballroom named after him at the Pawnee Super Suites.
- Game of Thrones ends with Khaleesi marrying Jack Sparrow.
- Joe Biden wrote a book of poetry called Biden the Rails: 1,001 Poems Inspired by My Travels Through Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
- Some phone calls are received on TVs.
- There's peace in Iraq.
- A "Top 10" listicle won a Pulitzer Prize.
- The Cubs have won the World Series.
- Etsy is still around.
- Nicki Minaj and Jesse Eisenberg were beefing at the BAFTAs.
- A reporter is using pen and paper to take notes.
U2 is still being forced onto people's phones
To apologize for violating people's privacy, the Gryzzl executives decide to throw a concert featuring Beyoncé and U2. "Tickets are already on your phone," Santangelo says. In a strange way, it's comforting to see that some things never change.