OutsourcedFeatured, Television — By Matt Miles 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.