Oct 6, 2011

[TV] Outsourced: Season 1

Outsourced: Season 1I actually watched this TV series before I watched the movie it was based on. And admittedly I had no plans of watching either. But one thing led to another and I found myself with the first half of the season thanks to my brother.

I avoided this series like the plague since it's all about the industry that I work in. Why would I want to unwind by watching a show that is supposed to represent the call center industry? Would seeing Indian versions of agents help me relax after a busy, stressful evening working the graveyard hours at my own call center?

Think about it.

But I already had the episodes, so it seemed like a waste not to at least give the show a shot. Plus news of its cancellation had already broken out by the time I started watching - and somehow knowing that the show wasn't going to go on helped me decide that it would be okay to watch it since its impact on my life was definitely measured.

But admittedly, it wasn't that bad.

Outsourced is a US television sitcom based on the John Jeffcoat movie of the same name. It had been adapted for television by Ken Kwapis and ran for a total of 22 episodes from 2010-2011.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 29:  Actor Ben Rappapo...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeLike the movie, the show is centered around Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport), a guy from Kansas City who finds out that his job at a novelty company has been outsourced to India with the rest of his sales department. Rather than face unemployment, he agrees to fly over to the new call center to manage their operations and get their performance numbers up to an acceptable level. There he meets Rajiv Gidwani (Rizwan Manji), the assistant manager on the ground who wants nothing less than Todd's job as manager whether through promotion or by getting Todd fired.

He eventually meets other call center managers sent over by their respective companies. One is the quirky Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader), who works for a company seemingly devoted to hunting products. The other is Tonya (Pippa Black), an Australian who manages the fictional Koala Airlines. They help Todd with the initial transition to life in India, although they're not around all the time - and thus Todd as numerous opportunities to get himself into trouble thanks to cultural ignorance.

As for his call center itself, the place is naturally filled with a variety of diverse characters. One is Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan), probably the most Western of his colleagues in terms of cultural knowledge (relatively speaking)but tends to flirt with every single female caller. There's Gupta (Parvesh Cheena), bit of a social misfit whose clumsy, bumbling ways is often the object of ridicule. There's very shy and conservative Madhuri (Anisha Nagaranjan), who tries to focus solely on the job since she provides for her entire family. And of course there's Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood), a woman who is preparing for an arrangement marriage while she and Todd inevitably grow closer over the course of the series.

Initially the technical inaccuracies with the setting distracted me from the humor of the show - a situation probably unique to call center folks like myself. To list a few just look at how they were set up - no call center would be so haphazard where each employee has such a spacious desk. Cubicles are the norm in most centers in order to maximize space. And of course there was the even bigger issue how the center only seems to work in the daytime when clearly they're supporting US customers also in the daytime. The folks behind the show only seemed to remember the mechanics of time zone differentials whenever Todd had to call home or something. The list goes on and on.

Also, the humor in the first few episodes bordered far too close to racism instead of well thought-out comedy. It's a small miracle that the show survived as long as it did given the lines they crossed in the first few episodes - but thankfully they managed to figure out what they wanted to do with the show.

Clearly the design was to somehow recreate the kind of success experienced with shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, but in an Indian setting. It had some moments like that, but in the end it was basically the gags in the movie stretched out across various episodes with a lot of Gupta nonsense in-between. For the most part it lacked direction since it didn't quite know what it wanted to accomplish with its stories over the course of the season. The only real stories they had to develop were the whole Todd and Asha thing and perhaps Rajiv's wedding plans. Maybe.

The show did have its moments as Todd started to learn more about what makes India such a beautiful country with a rich and compelling culture. The relationship between him and Asha was quaint, but not exactly instant on-screen sparks like what we've seen in other shoes (Read: Jim & Pam from The Office) and the joke started to get better when they stopped culture-bashing. But I suppose it was a case of too little too late in terms of the show's continued life on NBC.

Outsourced is an interesting experiment in pushing the definitions of comedy matched with cultural education. It could have been a lot bigger than it had been, but there's no sense in crying over spilled milk. If anything, I liked the show a lot more than the movie - casting was better, Ben was a tad cuter Todd and the jokes were funnier. Eventually. Outsourced gets 3.5 strange novelty items that I can't imagine anyone actually buying out of a possible 5.

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