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Review: Outsourced 1x1

Posted on September 24, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Outsourced

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

We're going to have to tread lightly here. So…

Outsourcing is a phenomenon which sees businesses transfer some of the things they do to other countries, most famously call centres. Someone has to run those call centres, and sometimes it's a local, sometimes it's someone sent over from the home country. One of the biggest countries for providing outsourcing services is India.

There. I made it through an entire paragraph without being too controversial. Because Outsourced, NBC's new comedy show is a great big hot potato that sees an American company fire its call centre and blackmail the centre's manager into going over to India to run the outsourced call centre. There he meets a motley collection of misfits as well as another American call centre manager who's been there a few years and a cute Australian call centre manager he'd like to get to know better (Pippa Black from Neighbours).

Still not too controversial?

Well, let's just say there are a few cultural clashes and a few stereotypes in the mix as well.

Cue the trailer:

Plot
"Outsourced" is NBC's new workplace comedy series centered around a catalog-based company, Mid America Novelties, that sells American novelty goods including whoopee cushions, foam fingers and wallets made of bacon, and whose call center has suddenly been outsourced to India.

After recently completing Mid America Novelties' manager training program, Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport, off-Broadway's "The Gingerbread House") learns that the call center is being outsourced to India, and he is asked to move there to be the manager. Having never ventured out of the country, he is unprepared for the culture shock. Overwhelmed, Todd discovers that his new staff needs a crash course in all things American if they are to understand the U.S. product line and ramp up sales from halfway around the world.

The sales team Todd inherits includes Gupta (Parvesh Cheena, "Help Me Help You"), a socially awkward employee; Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan, BBC's "Five Days II"), a young romantic who is enamored with America; Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood, BBC's "Doctors"), a smart, striking woman who finds herself intrigued by Todd; Rajiv (Rizwan Manji, "Privileged") the assistant manager who wants Todd's job; and Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan, Broadway's "Bombay Dreams"), a wallflower who suffers from extreme shyness.

Todd also discovers other transplants working in his office building, including an American expatriate, Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader, "The Drew Carey Show"), who runs the All-American Hunter call center, and Tonya (Pippa Black, "Neighbours"), a beautiful Australian who runs the call center for Koala Air.

From Universal Media Studios, "Outsourced" is executive produced by showrunner Robert Borden ("The Drew Carey Show," "George Lopez") and director Ken Kwapis ("He's Just Not That Into You," "The Office"), who developed the project through his company, In Cahoots. Victor Nelli, Jr. ("Ugly Betty"), Tom Gorai ("Outsourced" theatrical release) and David Skinner ("Outsourced" theatrical release) also serve as executive producers, and Alex Beattie serves as co-executive producer.

Is it any good?
Well, its heart is in the right place, even if its brain isn't. Think of this more as "Community in India" rather than anything insightful, biting or well researched. This is broad brushstrokes comedy, and while there are times you feel like you're in the audience watching "Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers, largely the show's trying to be affectionate and warm. It picks on American ignorance of foreign cultures as much as it does on the Indian employees' ignorance of American culture. In fact, it goes to great lengths to show that most of the culture clashes are localised to the people involved (for example, the "A-team" of Indians who have worked in the US and can speak with perfect American accents about all aspects of US culture are shown to be working elsewhere. We're dealing with the "B-team"), even though it in no way depicts what an actual Indian call centre is like.

Of course, that doesn't mean the show especially understands Indian culture except in the broadest sense, and let's not get started on Australian culture here (I mean 'Koala Air'? Really?), but it tries very hard and affectionately to work at nuance and understanding, much like the main character, Todd. Okay, so it's actually quite offensive at times, despite that (curry will make you ill. Is that a new joke? Is it true? Well that's not stopping Outsourced?) but it's trying hard.

But let's move along from that and ask the big question, is it funny? Well, yes it is, a lot of the time. The cast are all pretty good. It's single-camera so no laughter track, thankfully.

Many of the jokes are obvious (and offensive) but Outsourced is trying to build its way up to character-based comedy. Much of the first episode is about building the characters rather than trying to be a Chuck Lorre "gag every other line" sitcom, and you get to know each of the call centre operatives and managers quite well before the episode is out. There's nothing like the comedy moments Community managed in the first two episodes, but you'll be grinning wryly at least through most of it.

All the same, you'll probably come to the end of the episode feeling a little uneasy. This isn't a bunch of Indians making a comedy about one of their call centres: this is a show made by Americans, starring Americans, an Australian and a few British-Indians about an Indian call centre and laughing at the misfits in it. None of the Indian characters have got their act together, unlike the white foreigners. None of them have been struck by too much of the modern world and its sensibilities.

You'll laugh, but maybe you'll regret it. I'll keep watching though…

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