In the final season of Parks & Recreation the timeline jumps ahead to 2017. The series was ultimately optimistic about the apparatus and people that constituted the American government. Real life 2017? Not so much. Jose Barbosa compares the two wistfully.
Some time ago American illustrator and Law & Order aficionado Brandon Bird tweeted an insightful comment about the nexus of recent TV heritage and 21st century geopolitics.
It was an enticing thought. Parks & Recreation completed its swansong season in 2015 by performing a trick the makers had learnt from Battlestar Galactica‘s season three flash forward. At the very end of season six the show leaps three years ahead to 2017, where peppy Leslie Knope is Regional Director of the National Parks Service and coping with triplets alongside her husband Ben “Calzone King” Wyatt.
Showrunner Mike Schur gave an interview at the time where he teased the final season: “There will be the opportunity, should we be so inclined, to make jokes and references to what we imagine the cultural and political landscape to be in 2017.” That’s exactly what they ended up doing.
So, after three years, here we are. It’s 2017 for real and the generally uplifting view of Parks & Rec – that despite all the failings of humans and their institutions, there are enough good souls to make a difference for the best – may grate with reality.
Let’s put some of that to the test.
1) THE PARKS SERVICE: FREE SPEECH HEROES
In the P&R vision of 2017, the National Parks Service is busy doing its thing – facilitating and maintaining America’s national parks. Knope is the Regional Director, buzzing around giving orders in the final episode of season six. “We are on a media lockdown,” she tells her assistants before firing Ed (as portrayed by Jon Hamm) for losing some files. Then Terry/Jerry/Gerry drops folders everywhere and everyone instantly hates him.
However, in our 2017 – which henceforth will be known as 2017 Prime – the Parks Service became embroiled in a controversy emblematic of some of America’s dread during the inauguration of Donald Trump. As the ceremony droned on in Washington DC, the Parks Service twitter account retweeted messages apparently critical of the incoming Trump administration. “Civil rights, climate change, and health care scrubbed clean from White House website. Not a trace” read the first one.
The account then shared a comparison photo of the crowd at Barack Obama’s inauguration with one of Trump’s.
In the aftermath, the Interior Department ordered a ban on using its official Twitter accounts. This lead to an alternative Parks Service Twitter account popping up, which to date has just over 86 thousand followers.
Was this the “media lockdown” Leslie was talking about? Did P&R somehow future-siphon the post-inauguration uncertainty and chaos?
However, there the links end. Through the rest of the season we see a Parks Service operating as usual: securing land for future parks and fixing playground equipment etc. Whereas in 2017 Prime, the Parks Service appears to be a rogue resistance faction resisting and countering propaganda from its own government.
2) TECH YO SELF 2017
In episode five, Ben and Leslie are sent some free gifts from their 2017’s Facebook stand-in, Gryzzl. It’s a terrifying ordeal. “The robots have come for us!” cries Leslie. “Later” says the departing Skypal drone after dropping off its payload.
This is, of course, way off the 2017 Prime reality. At the moment our drone technology can only dress up as ghosts or help motocross riders find their cars in parking buildings.
However, the truly frightening aspect of this runaway technology is the intrusions into personal privacy. Turns out Gryzzl is sending Pawnee residents gifts based on very private details. Donna receives two honeybears and a Bannister of sugar plums. ‘Honeybear’ and ‘Sugar plum’ just happen to be Donna and her husband Joe’s pet names for each other.
This mirrors an equally disturbing aspect of social media in 2017 Prime. Facebook decided to celebrate its 13th birthday by sending users video of a dancing figure made up of pictures of friends on Facebook.
This is the social media version of creating a new life form with hacked off body parts from your friends who’ve been rounded up and kept in a basement. This is a kind of waking nightmare that is beyond the comprehension of those living in P&R 2017 and I pray for us daily.
What P&R really got wrong was phones. 2017 Prime mobile phone technology is lacking the apparently holographic UL tech of Parks 2017. There you control floating screens by waving your hand around. In our reality, everything is oily from contact with our disgusting fingers. Honestly, how are people not vomiting in the streets?
3) PARTISAN PANCAKES
Episode four of the season contains not only a break from the 2017 Prime reality, but a heinous break from all logic and observed existence across all fields of science.
Leslie and Ron Swanson spend 12 hours locked in the office by their friends in an attempt to reconcile their differences and become friends again. They do so and leave at the conclusion of the episode for JJ’s Diner. The episode seems to be suggesting that two people from opposing ends of the political spectrum can put aside their differences and enjoy breakfast together.
By the final episode, the show has given up trying its hand at speculative fiction and has instead opted for straight fantasy. Via another flash forward in time, we are shown Ron becoming the manager of Leslie’s magnificent wild park near Pawnee. Ron is shown to be very happy in his new role. In effect, the episode is simply ridiculous in its claim that even a libertarian can find peace and personal fulfillment in government work.
4) THE JOHNNY KARATE SUPER AWESOME MUSICAL EXPLOSION SHOW
However, they hit the nail on the head in their depiction of 2017’s news media.
Parks & Recreation‘s last season is whatever the sitcom version of fake news is. So far 2017 has not turned out to be a redemptive journey into friendship and the ties that bind all humanity. If you stumble across a secret government project to transport officials to safety in the Parks and Recreation 2017 universe, we suggest you stowaway or take control of the ship by force.
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