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Outsourced Seeks Cross-Cultural Comedy With Broad Stereotypes

By Edited Nov 15, 2013 0 2

One of the most heavily advertised new shows of the fall is Outsourced, a sit-com about an American guy running a call center in India. Based on the 2006 John Jeffcoat comedy of the same name, it airs on NBC. I wasn't sure what to think of the premise, but I was intrigued enough to watch it, especially since I myself worked at a call center briefly. I sold clothing, mostly to older people, while the company in this series specializes in novelties like fake vomit and singing deer heads. I'm no fashion expert, so my job sometimes left me a bit flummoxed, but that's nothing compared to the bewilderment that these Indian workers experience when they peruse the catalog and try to understand why anyone would pay money for such ridiculous stuff.

Ben Rappaport plays Todd Dempsy, an ordinary guy with pretty solid managerial skills. He seems like a slightly more hapless version of The Office's Jim Halpert; he's looking to get ahead in business, but he's generally pleasant and courteous and seems to have goodwill for all those around him. He also seems a bit pathetic, however. When he finds out that most of the staff at his company has been sacked, he is shocked to learn that he's being asked to relocate to India, but he does so because he needs the job. I get that these are tough economic times, but he responds as if this is the only job he could possibly ever conceive of having. All those people who were let go have to find someplace else to work; couldn't he? It would be a nice show of solidarity with them, and it would mean not having to overhaul his life. Then again, it really doesn't seem like he's leaving anything behind.

I imagine we'll delve more into his history in coming episodes, but for now, my impression is that he simply picked up and moved to India, leaving no significant ties in America. No wonder he seems so drawn to Tonya (Pippa Black), the friendly Australian manager he meets in the cafeteria. Also in the cafeteria, he becomes acquainted with Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader), a guy who has stubbornly refused to adapt to the culture in any way. He sits at a lunch table by himself and eats a packed lunch of American food, of which he has a stockpile. Granted, the show makes the cafeteria fare look pretty unappetizing, but Todd is willing to give it a shot, and it's clear that he wants to bridge the cultural divide as much as he is able to, with some help from his assistant manager, Rajiiv Gidwani (Rizwan Manji) - though he may prove more hindrance than help as his main aim is to get Todd out of there so he can be the manager himself.

The very nature of the company is ripe with comedic potential, but of a pretty low-brow variety, and I can't help siding with Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood), a no-nonsense employee who seems turned off by the very existence of most of these items. The fact that she, who seems to be only vaguely familiar with Christianity, respects Christmas more than Todd does is an interesting commentary on the way that consumerism has taken over the holiday in America. Most of the Christmas-themed items are truly distasteful.

The employees themselves are likable enough and display a range of competence. Near the bottom of the class is Gupta (Parvesh Cheena), who is enthusiastic but inept, and Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan), who has the fatal flaw of a nearly inaudible voice. It would seem that her quietness stems mostly from insecurity, in part because she is of a lower caste than everyone else in the call center. Meanwhile, joining Asha as the top go-getter is Manmeet (Sacha Dahwan), who is fascinated by American culture and eager to absorb all that he can.

Some culturally insensitive remarks come up throughout the first episode, mostly when Todd makes lame attempts at humor by referencing things that none of his employees have heard of. His tactless fixation on Manmeet's name is especially annoying, but while his lunch buddy seems rather mean-spirited, Todd mostly just has a lot to learn - and the first thing might be when to hold his tongue. Many of the employees have misperceptions about America - though in several cases, their comments, uncomfortable as they are to hear, are insightful. Generally, it seemed as though Indian culture is treated with more respect than American culture on the show.

Still, there are jokes on both sides, and most of them rely upon broad stereotypes, as well as the annoying practices of call centers. From the consumer end of it, my mom, attempting to fix an Internet problem, just spent several hours on the phone being transferred to several people, none of whom spoke English very well or understood her explanation of the issue. When there is a language barrier, that can be very frustrating. Meanwhile, from the employee end of things, I too have had to suggest comparable items, knowing that I risk sparking the irritation of the customer on the other end of the line. I got a laugh out of some of the workplace humor because it felt so familiar.

Still, I don't think that Outsourced is likely to be on the air very long. With so many people out of work or facing layoffs, I'm sure there are quite a few who would find it hard to laugh about the situation. Moreover, with the show poking fun at both Indian and American culture, I expect that the potential for offending viewers is high. Besides, all of those gross-out novelty items are sure to get old really fast. Pools of fake blood? Mistletoe belts? Cheese hats? Okay, actually, I kinda want one of those. But anybody beyond the eighth grade will probably be rolling their eyes at most of these novelties by the end of the first episode. It all adds up, then, to a series unlikely to last through the holiday it has already begun to lampoon.



Sep 29, 2010 6:14pm
A very informational article that serves IB well...Done very well, and clearly knowledgeable on the subject matter.
Sep 30, 2010 11:58am
Thanks! :)
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