What you are about to read is, as far as I can tell, very rare on the Internet: a positive blog post about Outsourced, NBC‘s new comedy set in a Mumbai call center for novelty items, which returns tonight at 10:30 PM. The show, based on a critically acclaimed film from 2006, focuses on Todd Dempsy, a Midwestern call center manager who is implausibly transferred to India to run the now-outsourced call center in order to keep his job. Everyone wrote the show off from the pilot, which, admittedly, did rely a little too heavily on offensive stereotypes and outdated pop-culture references. The show improved from episode to episode after that, however, and I began to grow attached to many of the characters.
Well, not Todd, really. Todd is the white male who is required to be the protagonist of the series, but I could do without him. In the movie, Todd, though a little thrown by India, is genuinely fascinated by the new culture and grows to respect and appreciate it. In the series, Todd comes across as a rude, naive moron who can’t even pronounce his employees’ names correctly. Plus, even though Ben Rappaport has a likable persona, the writers keep pushing Todd as this obscene frat boy that goes against the nice-guy vibe he’s playing. They have, however, given him some more layers by introducing some conflicts with his family into the mix.
I was also not very fond of Rajiv, Todd’s assistant manager. He was too much of a one-note character, constantly undermining Todd in the most annoying and blunt ways possible in a brazen attempt to seize his position. A few episodes in, though, I was surprised to find myself liking him. They gave him some human touches like his unspoken affection (not like that) for Madhuri, whom he publicly derides but privately shares a secret with, and his true motivation for wanting Todd’s job: to impress the family of the woman of his dreams so he can marry her. Given more background, Rajiv has become one of the show’s more reliably funny characters, thanks to Rizwan Gidwani’s straight-faced delivery during such clever exchanges as this:
Rajiv: “No one quits [paan] cold chicken.”
Todd: “Cold turkey.”
Rajiv: “Cold lentil. I do not understand this game.”
Manmeet is the Ladies’ Man, or at least he’d like to be. Sacha Dhawan plays him with a cool flair, as if he’s the best dude ever, but still down-to-earth. After all, he’s the one who can befriend Todd and be his confidante. I think he’s still a collection of character traits culled together by a charismatic performance rather than a funny character, but he has his moments. For instance: “Todd, we have been humiliated. Gupta may be used to it, but for us, this is quite a blow.”
And what of Gupta, the lovable doof? He’s the one in the office who won’t shut up. He’s kind of dim, which makes him the butt of the joke most of the time, but he’s got a big heart. Parvesh Cheena is completely adorable, but Gupta’s jokes are pretty hit-or-miss (and when they miss, they’re bafflingly unfunny).
Look at that smile. Look at that smile! It slays me. Rebecca Hazlewood, please call me. So the woman above was one of the main reasons I checked out this show, and she has definitely delivered on being stupid pretty. But Asha does have more to offer. She’s also outspoken, usually the only person calling Todd on his shit. As Todd’s love interest, she doesn’t get much opportunity to be funny, but her conflict between her decision to have an arranged marriage and her attraction to Todd has dramatic potential.
Madhuri is this show’s secret weapon. Whoever discovered Anisha Nagarajan deserves a prize. Shy and soft-spoken (but not literally, thankfully, as that gag was dropped quickly), Madhuri sometimes goes unnoticed, but when she speaks, she makes it count. She frequently steals entire episodes with a single scene. The brilliant thing about Nagarajan’s performance is that it could easily be one-note, every line a pathetic whimper, but in fact Madhuri has many sides to her. She’s turned a character from someone who was a caricature in the pilot into someone maybe even more layered than the writing deserves. She has desires of her own, like pictures of Hrithik Roshan. And she’s responsible for quite possibly my favorite punchline of the series, which had me laughing for the rest of the evening as I recalled it, and still makes me laugh now.
Charlie: “I have a plan to ensure they never give you table trouble again. It’s called Fire Escape.”
Manmeet: “Ooh, that sounds good. What do we do?”
Charlie: “We set fire to their stuff. Then, we escape.”
Gupta: “That’s it?”
Madhuri: “I think that’s just called arson.”
Oh, Charlie. Charlie is the Ugly American stereotype in all his Diedrich Baderness. He’s basically there to be more offensive than Todd so that we don’t think Todd is all that bad. I was ready to throw him out, but he’s proved to be not that terrible, as he’s somewhat befriended Our Indian Heroes (see the above exchange, which is about his effort to help them get back at the more experienced call center employees who can talk in impeccable American accents and prank-call them into thinking they’re beating their sales goals). And he’s actually had his amusing moments, like when he expresses genuine satisfaction at the apparent revelation that Indians masturbate.
Oh God, Tonya. Tonya is just there to be Australian and hot. Everything out of her mouth is either an Aussie stereotype or a sexual innuendo. She instantly decides she wants to sleep with Todd and makes no bones about it, and at first, I thought it was refreshing to see a woman being confident in her sexuality, but then her constant advances just became tiresome, since there was nothing more to her. I am not the kind of person who usually wants characters to die in a fire, but oh my God, Tonya, die in a fire.
As you may have noticed, it’s the Indian characters/actors that make this show worth watching, and I think that’s amazing. This is a network television show with a cast that’s primarily Indian, and I didn’t actually know I wanted one until I got one. Is the show flawed? Hell yes. It could be much sharper, it could ditch most or all of the white characters, it could stop dipping into the stereotype well for jokes, it could do many things. I am not saying Outsourced is a brilliant comedy up to par with the rest of NBC’s Thursday night lineup. I am saying, however, that it is not the horrific monstrosity that critics and the blogosphere have made it out to be (most of the time without watching past the pilot or first couple episodes), and it’s worth a look.