'Parks and Recreation' Production Designer on Getting 2017's Gadgets Right

Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Jon Glaser as Councilman Jamm, and Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Jon Glaser as Councilman Jamm, and Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope

Welcome to the year 2017! Parks and Recreation viewers got a tour of that not-so-far-off future when the NBC comedy returned on Tuesday night for its final season. The show’s production designer, Ian Phillips, headed up the crew that took the characters — and viewers at home — on a two-year time jump. "One of the challenges was that 2017 isn't that far into the future," he tells Yahoo TV. "So we were trying to use today's technology and enhance it a little bit, but not go so far that you felt you were watching Star Trek." Here are some the behind-the-scenes details about the world of 2017, as Parks and Rec predicts it.

Screens, Screens, Screens


In designing the world of tomorrow, Phillips and his team consulted the research of several futurists and one element that recurred throughout was the increasing omnipresence of screens — big ones. "We tried to incorporate a lot of screens and make them bigger and bigger, reflecting the idea of Big Brother: that there's always a screen there and it's gotten so massive that it's always in your face. Just outside the council chambers, for example, there used to be a sign that said 'Meeting in Progess.' We changed it so there's an actual screen there now." Furthermore, all of these screens — they are operated by a swipe of the hand rather than a remote control. "In our future, there's really no touching of any of the screens," says Phillips. "You just move your hand in front of the devices and you're able to interact with them. Basically, we took the technology of the Xbox Kinect and applied it to TVs, iPads, and the like."

You've Heard of Fold-Out Couches — Meet the Fold-Out Phone

Rather than the plethora of gadgets people have today — iPhones, iPads, iWatches etc. — Phillips decided that Pawnee citizens would have one gadget that did everything. Enter the Gryzzl tablet, a handy device created by the town's leading tech company, which can be seamlessly folded into the shape of a phone and back again. (April shows off this feature while waiting for Andy to come home with their slow cooker.) "We tried to integrate everything we could into one item, so that it could really be played with anywhere. In our research, we discovered that it's really coming to that." But the actual device the actors are playing with is made of far-less futuristic material. "It's a clear piece of acrylic," Phillips explains. "We added a little bit of embellishment, like aluminum pieces and the Gryzzl logo. We had a couple different versions; one that folded up, one that was standard tablet size, and a phone version as well."

Related: 'Parks and Rec' Boss Michael Schur on the Final Season's Time Jump and Who's Coming Back to Pawnee

Beware the A.I.


In the future, Siri will have a face… and it won't always be a happy one. In order to help seal the deal on their $90 million bid for the Newport family's land, the Gryzzl team gifts them with a prototype tablet with an A.I. assistant. The goofy-looking face starts out all blue and loving, but quickly turns red-hot with anger. "They're still a couple bugs with the A.I. software," Gryzzl's resident inventor says airily. Phillips says that the malfunction was deliberate. "Much like Siri, the Gryzzl A.I. doesn't work quite as well as you'd like it to. You'd better make sure to turn it off before you go to bed, because it'll be watching you and it's a little creepy!" Even with the creep factor, this would be Phillips's first choice for future technology he'd like to have today. "It would be great if it worked properly; I could do my job so much more easily. But you definitely do not want the red face — you want to stick with the blue face."

(Not Many) People Still Read Books


Perhaps the most encouraging sign of Pawnee's future is that libraries are still a thing. Unfortunately, attendance is at an all-time low. "We didn't put a whole lot of people in the library, because everyone reads on their tablets — it's become arcane to read a book. Yet the library still exists and Tammy II is still working there. It's funded, so she still needs to justify her job and go to work everyday." Thanks to the lack of visitors, though, she's able to get away with a lot more than she could back in the good ol' days of 2014. "She's able to destroy everything because books don't mean that much to people anymore."

Video: Behind the Scenes of 'Parks and Rec's' Final Season

Herzog is a Homeowner


Who else but German director Werner Herzog could play the looking-to-sell owner of a holding cell for the insane employees of a doll's head factory? Phillips says that the house was a real Victorian home that production team found in downtown Los Angeles. "It was dilapidated and falling apart, and we added all these weird elements like the fireman's pole that comes down to the second floor and a staircase that goes nowhere. You didn't see it in the episode, but there was a fireplace in one room that we put a mantle in. Just weird things around the house, to make it look like a crazy place where some weirdos used to live in Pawnee."

Related: 'Parks and Recreation' Season Premiere Review: Back to the Future

There's More to Come
According to Phillips, the premiere is just a tase of what's to come. "There's more technology that will come up during the course of the season; I think it'll be fun for viewers to pick up on little things as they show up. And we might see a slight glimpse a little further in the future." Does that mean… the year 2019?

Parks and Recreation airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.