“Outsourced” Premiere Review
Posted by CJ Cregg on September 23, 2010
I’m going into this show incredibly skeptical (and a little bit drunk). However, the New York Times said the show was charming and not offensive this morning, so I’m a smidge more inclined to give this show the benefit of the doubt.
This show stars Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport), a cute and earnest sales manager, who learns that his entire call center for Mid America Novelties has been outsourced to India. He heads to India to take his manager position. Todd gets to know his new employees and meets another call center manager, Charlie. This guy is unabashedly American and refuses to eat India food and assumes that the mark of a good employee is how much they know about America.
My head is kind of spinning (maybe it’s the alcohol), but the scholar in me is trying to figure out how to feel about the representations of each culture. (Yes, I’m definitely overthinking this.) Now, the show makes fun of American culture more than it makes fun of Indian culture, which is good. But it’s a bit too obvious. When Todd explains the mistletoe belt buckle [read: blowjobs] and Asha asks “this is how you celebrate the birth of your God?” and Todd replies “In America, there is no purpose. Maybe no one needs [these novelties] but in America, no one stops you from making it.” Nothing like making American culture trivial. While at the same time holding up America as the bastion of freedom and innovation. Common contradiction. Are we really just ‘jingle jugs’ and ‘Billy the Big Mouth Bass’? [Billy isn’t actually in this show. It’d be better if he was. ‘Give me back that fillet o fish…’]
I’m not really sure why the Indian employees need a crash course in American culture to answer phones and take credit card numbers, or why we need to set up this us vs. them cultural dichotomy. So this is a problematic premise. As a result, my first thought was that the show ultimately otherizes. The Indian employees are portrayed as desperately needing education in American culture for success. Which is colonialist (to throw scholarly jargon at you) and sad. But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe the ability to relate to individual people and inspire them is enough to overcome this premise. And Todd does seem to really care about his employees. (Or he’s just using them for his individual success, who knows.)
And then there was a poop joke in the last 3 minutes about how Indian food sucks. And now I return to being skeptical about this show. How sophomoric.
But between all the ‘America sucks because we have so much money, except we kinda don’t cuz we’re in this recession because we screwed up’ themes, the show has more heart than I had anticipated. I like and feel for the characters (both Indian and American). For example, upon learning that he is being transferred to India, Todd asks his boss, “Whose to say I’m not going to go out there and start my own novelties company?” The man [boss] asks him, “Don’t you own like 40,ooo dollars in student loans?” Next screen shot? India. Touche, Outsourced, touche. A dream deferred, indeed.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m conflicted. I think the show’s premise is problematic and dated, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It has more heart and soul and less blatant racism than I anticipated. But it’s not nearly funny enough to be the new Office or 30 Rock.