By Arturo R. García
Based on the pilot episode, Outsourced has the potential to be something rare: a show that’s pissing off people on both sides of an issue, but in reality is too bland for its’ own good.
As things stand, it mostly pussyfoots around its’ premise: Todd walks into work one morning to find out the novelty product call center he’s supposed to lead has been shifted to India – no city is named on the show’s website, by the way – and staffed by locals.
Now, there’s comments on the show’s page expressing offense that a) the network would air a show about Americans losing jobs to “those people;” and b) that South Asian actors would willingly take part in a show that reduced them to Funny Minority backdrop roles for yet another clueless American character. Somewhere in the middle of both stances, there’s room for a comedy that can address both sides of the issue. But so far, this doesn’t look like it’s gonna be it.
The problem starts with our protagonist. As a character, Todd is so “average,” he looks like he’s on the wrong show; he really should be the lead in The Office: The Next Generation, as he looks like the son Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly never had. But he lacks both Jim’s snark and Pam’s spark, making it hard to believe it, let alone root for him, when both Asha and Tonya start making goo-goo eyes in his direction.
As for the POC cast members, most of their characters are indeed as badly drawn as many people suspected they would be. Besides Asha, though, there’s promise for the American-obsessed Manmeet and Todd’s openly traitorous second Rajiv to score some good lines in the future. Too bad for them they don’t have a more capable foil to bounce off of. Actually, they do, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the creative team realizes it.
If Outsourced really wanted to dig into the topic at hand, it might have had a better time of it looking at it through the eyes of Charlie, the Ugly American character. Not only is Diedrich Bader the type of comedic specialist who can lift this kind of material, but it gives you more potential for a true character arc. The same principle seems to have worked for Eastbound & Down.* And Bader delivering a line like, “you guys have got some pretty crazy-looking hats yourselves” would give both the joke and the ensuing punchline – the center’s only Sikh employee storming out – more of a punch. I can’t say I didn’t want to join him, but not for the reasons NBC might have preferred.
* Yes, I know the show is based in Mexico this season; but I can only take so much.