Parks and Recreation takes on Silicon Valley in final season

It’s not new for Silicon Valley to be the subject for Hollywood. From the actual TV series Silicon Valley, to one off episodes in series like Veep, to the eery Black Mirror, the growing power of technology and the maturation of the industry make for good comic and dramatic fodder.

The latest is perennial NBC favorite Parks and Recreation. The feel-good show — starring Amy Poehler as Pawnee, Indiana Parks employee Leslie Knope — is going after Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google in a multiepisode storyline stretching across its final season. The tech quartet is represented symbolically as one in a company called Gryzzl, which bids for a giant chunk of land near Pawnee that Leslie wants to turn into a national park.

The year is 2017 and Gryzzl’s fingerprint is everywhere. The characters scroll through their collapsible, transparent tablets, surf free Gryzzl Wi-Fi, and communicate through Gryzzl’s social network. Gryzzl’s casually dressed, young execs pop up throughout the episodes, determined to win their $90 million bid to turn the Pawnee park into their next tech campus.

But Leslie, in her frantic attempt to defeat them, comes across that classic consumer tech Achilles Heel: Data privacy issues. Pawnee residents start freaking out when Gryzzl delivers creepily personalized, free gifts to each of them by drone.

Pawnee, Indiana, is supposed to represent the ultimate vision of Middle America. Despite being written in Hollywood, it gives us some satirical insight in how the rest of America views tech companies and data privacy issues in particular; far more so than the actual show Silicon Valley.

Without further ado, the funniest tech jokes in Parks and Rec’s last season:

1) Gryzzl’s motto

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2) When the Siri-like AI on Gryzzl’s tablet malfunctions

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Robot: “Thank you Jessica. I love you too. I love your skin. Give me your skin!!!!”
Gryzzl exec: “There’s still a couple bugs with the AI software. Maybe just turn it off before you go to sleep.”

3) The treadmill desk, beanbag chair, and cereal dispenser adorned office of Gryzzl’s “VP of Cool New Shiz”

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I’ve seen my share of cereal dispensers at startups. And tech companies do love their standing desks, with Facebook testing out a treadmill desk lab.

4) Gryzzl’s press conference, featuring rave lights, trance music, and booth babe-esque dancers. Kinda reminded me of TechCrunch Disrupt. A local celebrity spouted nonsense buzz words that resembled The Verge SuperBowl trailer.

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Local celeb repping Gryzzl: “Fresh, innovative, place making, disposable duvets, growth hacking, super moon, Gryzzl. Now come with me as we binge watch the future.”

5) The talking Gryzzl drone delivering creepily personalized presents to the residents of Pawnee. Basically Amazon and its drone delivery plans.

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Leslie: “Oh my god Ben! We’re about to die! The robots have come for us!”

6) The Pawnee residents complaining about their invasion of privacy at a Town Hall meeting. The man who collects toy pigs dressed like movie stars stole the show.

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Pawnee resident: “This is Hamuel L. Jackson from the move Pork Fiction. They have no right to give me something I will treasure the rest of my life!”

7) Gryzzl’s new facial recognition software that tracks your expressions and knows your mood, reminiscent of Facebook’s newsfeed emotions testing.

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Gryzzl exec: “If the camera senses that you’re in a bad mood then we could geomatch you to say the nearest cup of sweet pick me up java. If you’re in a good mood then we could geonudge you to a sweet coffee shop and you could keep the good times going.”

Ben: “So it’s really just a coffee sales app?”

Gryzzl exec: “Yeah! We’re partnering with Starbucks.”

8) And this about sums up the mainstream view of tech:

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Gryzzl exec: “I hope you can see now theres nothing scary about Gryzzl. we just want to learn everything about everyone and track them everywhere they go and anticipate what they’re about to do.”

The Interview tops YouTube’s list of popular videos

Getting hit by hackers who may or may not be from North Korea isn’t the worst way to drum up interest for a movie: “The Interview” is currently at the top of YouTube’s “Popular Right Now” list. A related video is third.

After initially canceling the December 25 release of “The Interview,” Sony backtracked and the film ended up showing in 331 U.S. theaters, according to Variety. That’s less than 10 percent of the locations at which the movie was originally slated to play. Only independent theaters showed the film after the large chains stuck to their original decision to drop the movie.

The film managed to hit the $1 million mark in theaters, but came in 15th for ticket sales on Christmas Day, Variety reported. A Sony statement said it sold out in some theaters.

So Sony’s decision to release the film online, where it is available for rent or purchase, was a smart one considering the interest in the movie after the hacking story received national attention. Sony’s anti-piracy measures, however, were not so smart. Variety estimates the film was illegally downloaded at least 900,000 times within 24 hours.

Interested in watching “The Interview” online? Here’s our guide to accessing it on your Apple TV, Roku, iPad or iPhone.

The fair use case to show The Interview if Sony will not

After Sony cravenly cancelled The Interview, people who had no interest in the comedy now want to see it — mostly so they can stick it to North Korea, whose threats caused the film to be cancelled in the first place. But where can they watch it?

Some options are already emerging. As the Wall Street Journal proposed, the U.S. government could release the film everywhere, including North Korea where dissidents already smuggle in movies via balloons and USB sticks. Under the Journal’s plan:

[A]n alternative would be for the U.S. government to buy the movie rights from Sony and release it into the public domain. Anyone could then share the file online without violating copyright, burn it onto DVDs or even re-edit it to make new viral videos. Chinese netizens love to mock Kim, and North Koreans like to watch movies smuggled across the border from China. Perhaps the CIA could dub the movie into Korean to make sure it gets to its target audience.

It’s not a bad idea, but perhaps there’s no need to wait for the U.S. government to buy the movie. Instead, distributors of any shape or size, from Netflix to film blogs, could rely on copyright’s fair use exemption to show the movie without asking [company]Sony[/company].

Law professor James Grimmelmann raised this idea last week:

Fair use rules involve courts balancing the rights of the copyright owner against the interest of the public. And in this case, the public interest case for showing the movie is enormous, given the awful precedent that this piece of censorship is setting. As David Carr of the New York Times put it:

Once the film was successfully censored, you could count the days until other films were affected. Actually, it happened earlier in the same day, before The Interview was shelved, when New Regency announced that it would drop an untitled thriller about North Korea that was to have starred Steve Carell. […]

The threats and subsequent cancellation will become a nightmare with a very long tail. Now that cultural discourse has become the subject of online blackmail, it is hard to imagine where it will end.

There is still the matter, though, of how fair use rules actually apply. Here, as with any other copyright case, it involves a standard test. The test involves four steps, but in practice, only two factors really matter: the reason someone is using the copyrighted work, and the effect that this use will have on the market.

As Grimmelmann notes above, the market factor tilts heavily in favor of anyone showing The Interview since, right now, there is no market for the film. And as for the other major fair use factor (known as “the purpose of the use”), there is a good argument that showing the film counts as a so-called transformative use. Unlike Sony’s original intention for the movie, which was as a lowbrow form of entertainment, others who show it would be making a powerful political statement. As President Obama noted on Friday:

“We cannot have a society in which some dictators someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States … That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”

Does this mean that the fair use case for showing The Interview is open-and-shut? No, it’s not. But the case is strong and, anyway, would Sony really double down by filing copyright lawsuits over a movie that it was too cowardly to release in the first place?

So let’s hope that everyone from [company]Netflix[/company] to [company]BitTorrent[/company] considers making a stand on this one. This would be a good occasion for the file-sharing crowd to prove that they care about something more than getting movies for free. And for [company]Hulu[/company] and [company]Amazon [/company]and anyone else with an interest in Hollywood, this would be a second chance to take up George Clooney’s call for the film industry to take a stand about something that matters more than money.

Cutting the cord in Hollywood

In the long run, the emergence of a content production economy that is not ultimately dependent on the traditional network gatekeepers either for financing or distribution will be far more disruptive to the pay-TV business than mere on-demand access to existing TV content.