Outsourced -- TV Review
It's astounding, borderline preposterous: How could a comedy -- a broadcast network primetime situation comedy in 2010! -- be based on an American being forced to move to India to manage the call center that has made unemployment statistics out of his former colleagues?
Insensitive during this generation's Hard Times? Possibly. An excuse to mock Indian people and culture? Could be. Downright angering? Sure, for many. A spectacular risk for NBC, especially in the plum post-"Office" slot?
But for those with the grit to get past, or over, the premise and watch without prejudice, "Outsourced" is a chance to grin in the face of modern economic realities while having fun with the U.S.-India culture crash. The show from Ken Kwapis and based on a 2006 indie film isn't about jobs lost; it's about opportunity gained. It makes light of the opposites of East and West without polarizing them. And most important: It's funny.
A smiling Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport) arrives at his office after some management training to find nothing but empty desks. He's given a choice: Move to India to run the company's newly relocated call center -- and become a vp -- or be instantly out of work. Faster than you can say "Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi," he's riding through a crowded Indian street in an auto rickshaw and remarking, "It's like Frogger but with real people."
Then it's time to meet his new staff -- a quirky, likable bunch of personality types recognizable from any American workplace. The company is Mid America Novelties, whose catalog ranges from fake blood and barf to toilet bowl coffee mugs and "Jingle Jugs," but it could be the Mumbai branch of Dunder Mifflin.
There's the deceptively Schrute-like Rajiv (Rizwan Manji), who's out to kill Todd's career with kindness so he can be the office manager; Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood ), long-haired, strong-willed and at least a little intrigued with her new Yankee boss; eager and woman-starved young Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan), whose name is made fun of early but not often; ultralow talker Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan), whose overt shyness is reflected in a constant deer-in-the-headlights gaze of terror; and Gupta (Parvesh Cheena), the painfully overchatty but harmless schlub.
Stereotypes? Sure -- of office workers. But each has an inherent humanity not usually associated with the voice at the other end of the 800 number.
Non-Indians in the building include Charlie (Diedrich Bader), an American ex-pat who lunches alone on PB&Js and warns Todd about what he's getting into, and Tonya (Pippa Black), a comely Aussie who takes an instant shine to the newcomer. Two potential love interests in the first 10 minutes? Attaboy, Todd.
Soon there are lessons in upselling and Americana, and the jokes are deployed. Some are easy and decidedly lowbrow -- "If you eat that, you'll be crapping yourself for five days" -- but none is mean or hurtful. They point out cultural differences and attitudes without ridiculing them. When Todd makes a crack after the inevitable sighting of a sacred cow outside the office window, the embittered Rajiv says, "You [Americans] are so wealthy, you practically bathe in meat." When the group giggles at Todd's sporting of a Green Bay Packers foam cheesehead, he replies, "Let's not make fun of each other's headgear."
Such is the nature of the back-and-forth. It's not cruel. It's not culturally insensitive. It's comedy. A workplace comedy and natural "Office" companion.
Americans know how to laugh at ourselves and that it's OK to laugh at someone else. NBC is plunging headlong into an abyss of risk-reward with the single-camera, laugh-track-free "Outsourced." It's still hard to believe that the network took the chance on it; the public should do the same.