Monday, September 27, 2010

Outsourced Should Be Out of NBC's Lineup

You’ve probably seen what I call “One-Bit-Wonders” — sitcoms based on one overarching joke that fails to deliver once that one joke has been played, and usually played out. Maybe you remember “Twenty Good Years,” a show which, owing to its pedigree and star John Lithgow, should not have failed so miserably were it not for its premise: two grumpy old men daring each other to do the things on their “bucket lists.” How many times can you watch a couple of guys skydive without feeling that the show has kicked the bucket? Or last season’s “Accidentally on Purpose,” with the fabulous Jenna Elfman, which revolved around her pregnancy following a poorly-considered, post-breakup hook-up with a stranger many years her junior, who then moves in with her. After the jokes about cougars, morning sickness, and swollen nipples run out, where is there to go?

Now we have another candidate for cancellation. Unless you don’t have a television or have some kind of political beef with NBC, you’ve probably been watching teaser ads for the sitcom “Outsourced” for about the last three years. When a network does this, for me it sends up a ginormous red flag that might as well say, “We know this show sucks. Therefore we’re going to ram the only funny bits into your eyeballs until you become a zombie, only able to stagger about chanting its title, network and time slot.”

The premise of “Outsourced” is that employee who works for an American novelty company returns from management training to find that all of the company’s sales jobs have been outsourced to an Indian call center. If he wants to keep his job, he must move to India and manage the center’s employees. And from what I’d seen in those meant-to-be-hypnotic, earlier-mentioned clips, the comedy seemed cheap and slightly offensive. Was the producer’s intention to leap on the zeitgeist of anger from having our jobs outsourced to countries like India? Make fun of it as a form of catharsis? Yeah, okay, who hasn’t called his or her credit card company and spoken to someone with an Indian accent named “Bill?” It’s funny. Probably half of the stand-ups in America use this in their routines.

But the routine is getting tired. When “Outsourced” premiered as a romantic comedy in 2006, perhaps it had more impact. Industrialization has moved quickly in the past few years, and now some of India’s companies have their own call centers in other, less-developed countries.

Which leaves us not with a sly commentary on the state of the world but a weak, fish-out-of-water, culture-clash, cringe-worthy comedy. The program felt lazy, as if the writers had no new ideas and merely reached for the low hanging fruit in cross-cultural humor: making fun of the Indian characters’ names, their English, their food, and, of course, the novelties the company sells. (You can even buy some of them at Then a cow wanders by the windows.

Ben Rappaport plays Todd, the American boss who manages the call center. I didn’t get much of a feel for this character, who came off as a bit of a lightweight with clumsy delivery. But that could just be Rappaport’s relative inexperience as an actor. This is his first television role.

High points are Rizwan Manji, who plays Rajiv, the assistant manager who wants Todd’s job. He has great comic timing, as does massively talented Indian stage and screen actor Sacha Dawan, as call-center employee Manmeet.

But overall, like the turbaned gentleman who leaves the room glaring at Todd every time he speaks, I wanted to follow him out and be done with this farce.

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