Earlier today, I asked a talking machine to tell me the temperature, I bought a train ticket on my phone, and I typed messages into the void and hoped people would like them (thank you, Twitter). This is all perfectly normal. But to someone living in the year 1995, the daily life of being “very online” sounds like something out of Black Mirror.
Set in Brooklyn in the mid-’90s, the six-part series follows Glenda (Myra Lucretia Taylor), an old-school travel agent recruited to help three white men accomplish their daring new idea: Booking flights online. To Glenda, who has been helping people fly between New York and the Caribbean for years, their idea seems avant garde — preposterous, even. But she lends her expertise, not realizing she’s contributing to the rise of travel aggregators that will endanger businesses like hers.
“I’m sure the guys in the show thought that they were helping this woman out by giving her a job. But that’s not actually what’s going on,” Salovaara said in an interview with Refinery29.
Salovaara hints at the connection between a changing technological landscape, and a changing neighborhood. The Future Is Then is set in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, one of the neighborhoods that would be majorly affected by gentrification in the 21st century.
“The tech industry has a habit of streamlining pre-existing business, and they replace human interactions with computing. I thought that it all spoke to the gentrification that’s happening in that neighborhood,” Salovaara said of the two strands’ connection.
Watching the series is like watching defining conditions of the era — income inequality, gentrification, the reign of the internet — assemble at stage left and get ready to take the spotlight. “How does this show portend our current environment 20 years later?” Salovaara asks.
Salovaara got the idea for The Future Is Then (which you can watch in its entirety here) through her own participation in the “current environment,” so to speak. While living in Bed Stuy, she befriended the owner of a local travel agency that has been in business since the ‘60s, mostly serving a West Indian clientele. Salovaara loosely based the character of Glenda on her acquaintance and filmed the show in her “time capsule” of an office on Nostrand Avenue.
“When you’re portraying a demographic that you’re not a part of, the number one thing to strive for is authenticity,” Salovaara said, aware of her role as an outsider in Glenda’s community. Salovaara ran all details by Okema T. Moore, the show’s Guyanese-American producer, and her travel agent friend.
What results is an intimate character study about one woman, a meditation on societal shifts, and a comedy — all at once.
Salovaara’s previous works feature the same species of comedy seen in The Future Is Then: So droll it appears placid, until ripples of clever and cutting commentary about social norms start to disrupt the surface. When she first received the script for Salovaara’s 2017 web series Let Me Die a Nun, Ana Fabrega was perplexed: Why would she, a comedian, be the first choice for a drama? Actually, the web series was a comedy — but it took Salovaara’s directorial touch to make the humor come off the page.
Compared to the three tech bros, who lace each of their interactions with an entertaining blend of one-upmanship and incompetence, the atmosphere in the travel agency is like paradise. Sure, the office is so full of paper it seems like a fire hazard, but it is sustained by camaraderie between colleagues, close relationships with customers, and impressive know-how. Human connection may not be as “efficient” as a travel aggregator, but it could be something better — which one tech bro (Carl Kranz) realizes during an existential crisis. Watching The Future Is Then, a person can’t help but wonder what we lost when the future became the now.