Let’s just get this out of the way first. In case you were unaware, Indian food makes you poop. And I don’t mean poop a little bit. I mean when you eat Indian food, nine times out of ten you will be lifted out off your chair on a geyser of diarrhea, propelled out through the restaurant’s window and out into the night sky. This fecal waterspout will continue unabated for days, taking you on all sorts of adventures across the globe, before delivering you back to your impatient date, stunned and dehydrated. Such are the wonders of Indian food. Also, it looks gross.
As horrible as it sounds, the sprinkling of xenophobic jokes that pepper the new sitcom Outsourced aren’t the real problem with the show. I’m sure I wasn’t the only prospective audience member who cringed at many of its commercials, imagining how completely offensive it might prove itself to be. Outsourced hits the big broad ethnic jokes early (funny hats, gross-looking food), and hopefully, never again. We got it. We’re in India now; we ain’t Kansas anymore.
After his entire company, Mid America Novelties, is outsourced to India, protagonist Todd (Ben Rappaport) must move there or be out of the job entirely. While they never come out and say it, I suspect Todd was raised in some sort of sheltered religious community or cult, as he has somehow never been exposed to the most basic of Indian conventions. He arrives in his new nation completely dumbfounded by how different it is: “Wow, these busy streets are like Frogger! I don’t know what religion you are, but this catalog of novelties is your new bible! O MY GOSH THERE IS A COW OUT THERE YOU GUYS!” Todd is a grown adult man who has seen TV or owns a computer. People all over the U.S. have tasted and enjoyed Indian food, even in Kansas City. We don’t have to have him shaking dust off of jokes Apu made fifteen years ago. Couldn’t they have had him read one single travel guide? Todd’s cultural incompetence is similar to the overall tenor of Outsourced: it’s not intentionally offensive; it’s just so damn lazy it can’t help it.
The corporate logistics of the show also made me nuts as I was watching it. Things start off delightfully hyper-real (An excellent Matt Walsh cameos as Todd’s American boss, casually stacking the hate-mail bricks that had been hurled through his window while munching on ribs), but segues into the quasi-normal real quick. This undermine the premise put forth that Todd must manage a “Team B” of Indian misfits and yokels. You know what all good companies have, Todd? An employee handbook. Why don’t you provide that to them, rather than awkwardly explain each of a thousand novelties as you pull them out of a box? These aren’t sub-par employees; they are just terribly mismanaged ones. “You don’t know who the Bad News Bears are?” Todd cries after trying to give his crew a motivational speech. O my god, no, they don’t, Todd. Seriously, who is this guy?
But I get it. This is the first episode; it can’t really help but be hook-heavy and over-written. On the plus side, there are some fabulous actors among the new Indian employees, and they are squeezing every last drop from the material they were given. Rajiv (Rizwan Manji), Todd’s scheming assistant manager, is fiendishly sweet, revealing his fervent hope for Todd’s failure so he can snag his job, all with a cheerful smile. Office loser Gupta (Parvesh Cheena) is heart-wrenchingly adorable, a tiny Kevin from The Office with hair.
And it is hottie and clear romantic intrigue Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood) that provides the one clear pearl amidst the pig feed. After Todd explains the titillating uses of a mistletoe belt, she inquires, “This is how you celebrate the birth of the son of your god?” YES, WE DO! We do all sorts of insane stuff over here! Maybe that’s not the newest observation to ever come out of the box, but still, it shows us a tiny glimpse of a whip-smart, unique show Outsourced could be. As a viewer, I have no investment in confirming or disproving each and every stereotype we have about Indian people, especially since we basically already did that in the first episode (food, cows, hats, etc). But that moment of revealing the white American protagonist is as the awkward interloper, rather than just an objective observer in silly new surroundings, was so clearly the right move, I hope they follow it. I don’t want to see a handsome Ugly American easily winning over a sweetly accepting foreign people. I want to see Todd quaking in his Old Glory underoos as he faces the challenge of succeeding when you are so epically unprepared to do so, surrounded by people as weird, neurotic and insufferable as our co-workers are here in the States. I plan to keep watching, but if they can’t turn things around…well, I’m with the angry Sikh guy who stalked out of every scene: you’ve got to be kidding me with this.
Halle Kiefer is a writer/comedian who writes for VH1’s The Fablife and lives in Brooklyn. You can read her insane ramblings here.