Sep 28

Outsourced - now with added smug grin!

For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of reviewing a TV show, just to see if it’s something that I enjoy doing. After all, I like watching TV and am unfortunately very talented when it comes to being judgemental and passing comment on the efforts of those more creative and driven than I am, so it seemed like a good area of overlap for me to explore. Then the question of what to review arose – a show that has been running for a while? Random episode of something? A show I am a fan of? Something completely new? When I read about “Outsourced”, a new sitcom starting in the US, it seemed like a good opportunity to get in at the ground floor on a new show. So here I am.

The premise is simple: young, up-and-coming, handsome all-American salesman Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport) works for a company that sells complete and utter tat – sorry, novelty items – to the good men and women that people the United States of Merka. Said company undergoes a bout of downsizing and Todd’s entire department is outsourced to a call centre in India. Instead of being fired, Todd is offered a promotion if he will go over there to run the operation. Can you see the comic potential? Anyway, Todd makes the move, finds out that India is chock-full of brown-skinned people with funny customs and hi-la-rious accents, and gets to show that Americans are the best. Fuck yeah!

Believe me, I wish I was joking or exaggerating in some way. This is my first review, after all. I’m not. I’m really, really not.

This is a show so offensive, so full of lowbrow, obvious jokes, so lazy in its frankly insulting ethnic caricatures that if he were alive today even Bernard Manning would be squirming in his seat and looking a bit nauseated. Hell, I think that even Nick Griffin would probably wait until the commercial break and turn over, his wonky eye spinning wildly like the Fourth Reich’s version of Mad-Eye Moody. The overall impression that you get from watching “Outsourced” is that a stray signal from a TV station in 1973 has somehow slipped through a time-space wormhole to emerge in 2010. This is a show that would have to tunnel upwards for three days through bedrock to hit the bottom of the Jim Davidson level of humour. Now I know how Sam Tyler felt having to deal with Gene Hunt.

What’s that you say, entirely made up voice that signifies one side of a fictitious conversation to enable me to move from one section of the review to another, you think I must be exaggerating? Oh no, gentle fictional person, I am really not, trust me. Examples abound:

  • When he first moves to India, Todd looks out at the busy streets and comments that the roads are like “…Frogger, but with real people.” Ha! Ha!
  • Todd’s assistant manager Rajiv (Rizwan Manji) introduces the staff and explains that he has hired a woman of a “lower caste” in order for Todd to fire her, thus demonstrating his fearsome power. Ha! Ha! Because caste systems are something to laugh at, aren’t they? Fear him, tiny Indian woman! FEAR THE POWER OF THE AMERICAN! Ha! Ha!
  • When Todd meets one of his salesmen, Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan) he can’t help but laugh that his name sounds like “Man meat”. You know, like “penis”, right? Ha! Ha! They say a week is a long time in politics? It is nothing to 14 seconds of that joke being rolled out on screen*. If you close your eyes, you can almost see the writing on the page that says, “Wait for audiences to stop laughing.”
  • This is the same Manmeet, by the way, that later has to have it explained to him by Todd that in America, land of milk and honey, you’re allowed to date a girl before you marry her. A prospect that Manmeet treats as unbelievably fantastic. And who wouldn’t? This is America we’re talking about here! Ha! Ha!
  • Of course, Todd makes a hilarious joke about all the funny hats people wear in India. Man in Turban immediately stands up and leaves. Woman wearing head-dress just looks uncomfortable. Can’t say I blame her. But Ha! Ha! Because they all wear funny stuff over there, don’t they?
  • In that same meeting, of course there’s a cow looking in the window. The cow, Todd has explained to him, is sacred to the Hindu religion. To which Todd, of course, asks what time lunch is. Because he’s thinking of burgers! Ha! Ha!
  • At lunch, Todd meets fellow American Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader) who runs a call centre in the same building. He warns Todd not to eat the Indian food because “…if you eat that, you’ll be crapping yourself for five days.” Because all Indian food is poisonous slop, isn’t it? Ha! Ha!
  • The above happens seconds before Charlie calls over a member of his sales team and makes him speak in an American accent, to show he is one of the “A team” – that is, a desirable employee because he can sound like he’s American. Because who wants to talk to an Indian guy, right? Ha! Ha!

You know what, enough with the examples. You get the idea. Surely the fact that I have been able to put together a bulleted list should point to some fairly glaring problems.

The thing is, there is genuine comedy potential in a sitcom that examines cultural differences. One that pokes fun at both sides of a divide (be it ethnic, social, religious, class based or cultural) and finds things to both send up and admire in both. However, where potential exists, it is counterbalanced by the temptation to be lazy, to not stretch and to rely on stereotypes. This is the trap “Outsourced” doesn’t so much fall into as jump, eyes wide open, shouting “Geronimo!” Instead of finding something funny to say the writers instead settle quite quickly into a tired old groove that mainly rotates around laughing at Indian people because they’re Indian, have funny accents and say things like “You are most perceptive. As they say in America, your elevator goes to the penthouse.” ** Oh, and they eat funny food that gives you the shits (which is the final joke of the pilot – yes, the final joke. The last joke of the premier episode, and that’s how they choose to bow out.)

As a genuine fan of American comedy this show annoys me – American TV sometimes gets a bad rap and is immediately dismissed as appealing to the lowest common denominator, which is rubbish. Look at “Seinfeld”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Arrested Development” or the US version of “The Office” to see what good American writers can do with comedy. As a human being living in a multi-ethnic society, this show just made me plain uncomfortable. Poking fun at ethnic differences is one thing. Showing the American swanning around with a shit-eating grin condescending to the natives is quite another. As a fan of TV in general it positively enrages me, because something that might have been actual quality probably got bumped to make way for this dross.

So all in all, I think I could probably have picked a better show for my first go at this whole reviewing lark. Just one final point, a little bit of advice should you ever have the misfortune of having to watch this crap: at the end of the last scene, when the screen fades to black, you’ll probably notice that you have a nagging sense of something being missing. No, it’s not the ability to get those 22 minutes of your life back. It’s because you’re half expecting a reedy voice to start singing out “Land of Hope and Glory” in an Indian accent before Windsor Davies bellows out “SHUUUT UUUUP!” You’re welcome.

“Outsourced”. Give it a miss. I wish I had.

* Believe me, 14 seconds. I timed it. And cringed.

** Word for word quote. Honest.