Outsourced

Featured, Television — By on October 12, 2010 at 8:00 am

I want to like Outsourced. The premise appeals to me, and fortunately for the show (while not for those affected) is actually timely for some who accept the fact that chances of getting jobs overseas may be better. And while the worst moments of Outsourced are pretty bad, at its best it tells any would-be expats, as well as anyone moving in a new direction, ”You are in for a ride.”

Ben Rappaport stars as Todd Dempsy, a rookie manager for a novelty company who walks to work one day to find an empty office. His boss explains his options, after picking up a brick that flew through the office window with “bastard” written on it. (“That’s for me,” he grins.) Move to India, or lose your job. Given the name of the show, it’s not a spoiler to say what Todd does next. He meets an assistant who spews sarcasm with a friendly smile and wants his job whether it be through Dempsey’s success or failure, and a team of operators who turn out to be the underdogs. As far as the character flew, we find ourselves on familiar ground. This is where writing and delivery make or break the fish-out-of-water character moments, and so far, Outsourced has done both.

Rappaport is either a fan of Paul Rudd or a skilled impersonator, but his delivery as the clueless expat who wants to be successful is spot on. My favorite moment so far involves him addressing the office to have a worker storm out for apparently no reason. Anyone who has ever stepped outside that comfort zone has had this, or some similar “what the hell just happened” moment. And while the “curry gives you the runs” jokes are played for cheap laughs, the would-be adventurous or those without many options would tell you the show got it right. Sudden change often hits right in the stomach, and while crude, these jokes hit the mark. However, there are other moments that don’t.

The tone switches from cartoonish to silly to lowest-common denominator. As one who has travelled overseas, I get tired of scenes with wide-eyed non-Americans innocently blinking, “You mean, somewhere, in  some magical place people buy things they don’t need?”  I have never had that conversation (other than internally or with other Americans) and maybe someone else has, but I doubt it.  These moments are played for cheap laughs as well, but this time relatability isn’t anywhere near to justify them. Some stereotypes need to go and the childlike foreigner is one of them.

The sadness is scenes like the ones described above hit on some possibly relevant (if overused) topics, such as “This (missletoe for your belt buckle) is how you celebrate the birth of your lord?” This lone believable moment in the over-silly ”people really buy this?” scene  had potential, but it was time instead for another cheap joke, shooting my enthusiasm  back to zero. But the first two episodes ended on a high note, especially episode one with the soft spoken girl I swear I’ve met in every country and walk of life.  Add in stray comments about castes and arranged marriages, and I’m rooting for the potential. These are complex subjects for a TV comedy and an uneven one at that, but who knows? It could happen.

Take, for example, arranged marriages. Todd likes Asha (played by Rebecca Hazelwood), who alternately seems to dig and dislike him. At one point he tries to date her and learns the complexities of arranged marriages. (With resumes and everything!) This reminded me of a discussion I had with Indian friends in the mission field whose marriages were arranged and explained how it works. It’s kind of touching and sweet in its own way, and as much as we Westerners don’t like the concept of the parents telling one whom they should marry, when done right there’s a lot of love and care put into it. This episode of Outsourced hints at going the other direction, but again, it’s a complex issue. For now it leaves us with another relatable stranger in a strange land moment: thinking he has a chance, even when being subtly shot down.  Todd Rappaport displays that desire to capture the unfamiliar even when being gently nudged back towards the familiar. Why doesn’t he go for Tonya (Pippa Black) with whom he probably has more in common? Any of us who took the uncomfortable but unavoidable steps forward in a certain but unpredictable direction can answer, “That would be too easy.”

Time will tell whether I wasted my affection on the potential of a silly TV show. In the meantime, I’ll sit back and enjoy the moments reflecting a time and way of life familiar to many of us, and laugh as I find comfort in the fact that we’re not alone.

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    12 Comments

  • Matt, thanks for this synopsis. I am interested in the show, too, but have not taken the time to get into it.

    Where are you teaching in Korea? My wife and I taught for a year in Cheonan at Korea Nazarene University. We often look back on that time in our lives with fondness. We walked to work together everyday and had a lot of time to build our marriage and travel. It really was a great opportunity for a young married couple to see the world together in a whole new way.

    • Matt Miles says:

      My wife and I recently moved back to the US after teaching in an International School in Pyongtaek (an hour south of Seoul). We met there, actually, so we enjoyed our time there as well. We need to be here now, but would be more than willing to go back overseas in the future.

  • Jordan Green says:

    Great piece, Matt…I honestly haven’t been impressed by the show in the least, mainly because Rappaport doesn’t have much charisma. And mustache rides and whoopie cushions aren’t funny anymore.

  • Ed Cyzewski says:

    I agree with Jordan on both of his points and will add that my wife studies with a guy who is into postcolonial literature and is married to a woman from India,and he found the show quite insulting to Indian culture. So he didn’t see too much redemptive value in it. Having suffered through the movie and hating the show even more, I don’t see how NBC thought this would be better than Parks and Recreation. Thanks for trying to make the best of a bad situation.

    • Jordan Green says:

      I could’ve gone on, but yeah, the treatment of Indian culture is pretty awful. I get the feeling that Todd Dempsy’s character arc would probably take him to a more culturally enlightened place, but the show’s approach really takes the “Other cultures are weird, huh? Isn’t that hilarious?” road. Seriously, who would move to India to work and not know cows are sacred? And how is that a joke? What’s strange to me is that they blocked this show with “Community”, “30 Rock”, and “The Office”, which are all fairly literate, intelligent comedies.

      I agree…get “Parks and Recreation” back as soon as humanly possible. It was the best show on the NBC lineup last year (and I love all the others).

  • I wanted to like it but it just wasn’t as funny as I thought it could have been, maybe it will get better.

    I LOVE 30 Rock, so funny. Where is Parks and Recreations? I have to watch online, a week after the original air date, so I am confused as to what’s up with that show. I really want it to get back on.

    I love Community too but 30 Rock is my absolute favorite show…of and Swamp People on the History Channel :-)

  • Vasca says:

    Poking ‘fun’ at living/working in any foreign country is not a good thing…the show could make good marks is it treated the people like they had good sense instead of portraying them as dodo’s. Story line had possibilities if ‘done right’…but networks seem to think we’re all a bunch of simpletons…blah.

  • Chandra says:

    As probably the only Indian-American to ever read this article, I have to agree that there is SO MUCH missed in comedic timing and delivery, namely capitalization on the hilarious fact that maybe 25-40% of the Indian characters are white people bathed in Ben Nye makeup, the lack of the genuine awkwardness of cross-cultural misunderstandings and the missed opportunity to point out the contradictions of American cultural stereotypes of Indians.

    Every time I catch an episode, I think, “Man, this writing team shouldn’t have taken such an obscure risk.” They’ve come up with gold before, but this is definitely more like… nickel.
    Yeah, it’s offensive: I mean, can you imagine the backlash if a similar show was made about Mexico or an African country? It would at least be mildly tolerable if the jokes were funny: We’re cheap, we’re anglophiles & we play cricket. I’m 26 & I’m an old maid. My parents are quietly devastated that I studied Journalism & Theatre instead of going to med school. It’s not that hard, people.

    • Jordan Green says:

      +1

      You bring up a good point, Chandra, which is why does this show not draw the ire a similar show filmed in Mexico or Africa would?

      (Though, to be fair, “Eastbound and Down” is set in Mexico, and it’s about 2000% more offensive. In that case, though, the person we’re meant to mock is the American.)

  • Steph Niko says:

    I haven’t seen the show, but I did see the film that it’s based on. The film handled the subject matter in a way that was more thought-provoking.

    I am, however, pleased that NBC is diversifying its casts more than it did in the late 90s. Maybe this show is just a stepping stone to the next show that will feature Indian people as main characters whose ethnic identity isn’t the sole focus of the show.

    • I find the inclusion of Indian actors in House M. D., Parks and Recreation and Rules of Engagement a step in the right direction. Granted there are still some biased undertones, but the stories are much more diverse in these particular shows.

  • Matt Miles says:

    I have no arguments with the negative comments on the show, and can’t blame anyone for hating it. I only found three positives worth mentioning, and one of them involves the runs, so take that for what it’s worth. I really think there could have been a better show in this. And I do want to check out that movie, as it sounds like a better bet.

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