Only watching the pilot of NBC’s new comedy Outsourced (and actually watching the pilot, not just jumping on the bandwagon of people critiquing a show they haven’t even watched), it feels that the series is only getting started.
The pilot was all about set up. An American, Todd Dempsy (played by newcomer Ben Rappaport) gets relocated to India to run a call center after his company, Mid-America Novelties, downsizes and outsources all its jobs because of the recession. Todd arrives in India and the culture shock hits not just him, but his new employees as well who don’t get American novelties like fake poo or singing deer.
The pilot spends its time introducing the characters and setting up the area, complete with neighboring call centers.
And while we get a feel for each of the characters, the pilot felt more like it was getting all of the expected stereotypes and shallow fish out of water jokes out of the way before moving on to bigger and better and funnier in the next episodes.
One can see the potential in Outsourced’s premise. There are opportunities for the “Let’s learn about each other’s real culture” stories that can be hilarious and meaningfully touching at the same time. There’s the underdog aspect of this ragtag team of call center agents and their American boss all hoping to do well and be successful. There’s the idea of the universality of office humor, that it doesn’t matter which country you’re in, these kinds of characters are universal. There’s even a potential love triangle too.
And most of all, everyone is likeable and ready to root for. The cast didn’t yet get their chance to really show off what they can do and that is another reason to look forward to future episodes.
Now, there’s the criticism about Outsourced being racist and un-American. First, some are reacting as if the series just $#*! on India when it hasn’t. Really, the pilot presented what are probably stereotypes most of America believes about India and shoots them down and will most likely continue to disprove those stereotypes as the series goes on.
Second, outsourcing takes jobs away from Americans sure, but also think about the people in these poorer countries where these jobs are just enough for them to get by. There are stereotypes about call centers themselves prevalent in the American consciousness already and most of the country probably has no idea what call centers mean to the hundreds of thousands of people employed at them in India and the Philippines.
If anything, it is a good thing for the greater American public to learn about what and who call center agents abroad really are and I certainly hope Outsourced touches on that among the many things they can touch on in future episodes. It is not insensitive, it is a reality. And it is not the fault of these people who are doing an honest day’s work abroad.
The pilot was funny, but definitely lacking a resonating punch. That should come in the following weeks when the characters themselves start settling in to their own new situation and start getting comfortable with each other enough to really begin interacting.
Culture-centric shows are always a risky venture, but Outsourced is a show that deserves more than one look, especially seeing the many possibilities for them to explore.
The Office, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock and Community didn’t hit it out of the park right away either, but look where they are now. Outsourced has just as much room to grow as they did, and even more opportunities to be something more.
I just hope it makes big strides in Episode 2.