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It's Offensive Because It's Not Funny

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 24, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 24, 2010 |

Thanks to a ton of negative hype, the fact that it was replacing the beloved “Parks and Recreation,” and all the opportunities the premise offered to offend, I expected to intensely loathe, “Outsourced.” I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I only disliked it moderately. The most insulting thing about “Outsourced,” in fact, is that it’s not very funny. Although, if you’re from India (or you lived in India for a period of time, as Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate had), there’s apparently lots of small things about “Outsourced” that seem more annoying than offensive, like the cow standing outside the call center. Apparently, that’s an American cow; Indian cows look absolutely nothing like that cow. (Who knew?) And the stained glass; no one would have stained glass in India, so I’m led to believe. And perhaps most perplexing was the fact that, despite the fact that there were two beautiful Indian women working in the call center at the center of the show, the lead American clearly had no romantic interest in anyone but the cute blonde American managing another call center. That’s offensive to our collective libidos.

Otherwise, most of the early fears about the racial insensibility of “Outsourced,” are unwarranted — it mines some Indian stereotypes, but no more than it does American stereotypes. That’s more lazy than it is insulting, and it’s no less common in other sitcoms. On the other hand, there is something to be said for a show that mocks the decline of American capitalism, and if it had more bite to it, it might have been effective. It could’ve been genius. If the writers dig into that aspect of the show — and God knows, there’s plenty of material there — “Outsourced,” could eventually become a decent 21st century comedy. But, based on the pilot episode, that prospect seems unlikely. It’s a network show; network shows don’t push the envelope as much as they jump inside it and snuggle up in letterhead.

The premise is simple: A Kansas City novelty company outsources its call center to Mumbai, and an American salesman is shipped over to India to manage it. Fish out of water! Culture shock! Chicken Tikka Masala! The problems begin with the show’s cheerful attitude, which is grating, particularly for a 9:30 sitcom. Leave that unrelenting cheeriness to the family hour, assholes. Second, the fact that the call center sells novelty items? Though it would seem to give the show a means to exploit American excess (there was one mild crack in that direction), it seems far more likely to provide multiple opportunities to make vomit and poo jokes, as it did last night. But mostly, “Outsourced” is not very funny, and it doesn’t seem to have the right attitude to get appreciatively better. If it were a little more mean-spirited, or if it weren’t trying so hard to be even-handed about its “comedy,” it might have a chance. You can mock ugly Indian stereotypes, you just need an uglier American to do the mocking. Ricky Gervais could pull it off; Alec Baldwin does it weekly on “30 Rock.” In the early, better days of “The Office,” Steve Carell excelled at racial insensitivity. Imagine what Charlie Day could do as the call center manager. Smiley McSmilerson (Ben Rappaport) on “Outsourced,” on the other hand, can’t do it — he’s too goddamn huckster. Deidrich Bader, who plays another call center manager in the show, probably could pull it off; however, he’s not given an opportunity to do more than to poke fun at indigestion problems that Indian food causes (that said, Bader was the only character who elicited any laughter out of me during the episode).

Ultimately, “Outsourced,” is more bland than it is offensive, and unless it becomes a more daring show, more willing to take risks at the expense of both American and Indian culture, it’s not going to be much more than another stale workplace comedy. Indeed, the show’s biggest detriment is not that it’s offensive; it’s that it’s not offensive enough.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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