Saturday, September 25, 2010

Outsourced - Episode 1

The "India" that serves the purpose of the set for Outsourced is very much the environment the organizers of the Commonwealth Games want the world to perceive as India. It's sterilized, organized, and seemingly efficient. The unfortunate truth is that that India doesn't exist. One of the reasons Slumdog Milllionaire was so popular in America was that it gave a fairly decent representation of what urban India actually looks like, including the office where the star was a pantry boy serving tea (yes, that job really exists). That reality is also one of the reasons I believe it's not a terribly popular movie in India. In fact, the only time I've heard it mentioned is in conjunction with AR Rahman and the music he produced for the film.

My point is this, if you're going to produce a show about an American working in India, at least make it look like he's working in India.

In addition, if you're going to produce a show about an American working in India, don't consume all the stereotype jokes in one episode. In fact, you could center entire episodes around a single stereotype and address then in balanced, informed, and funny manner. Arranged marriages? There's an episode. Religious head wear? Another episode. Food? Probably two or three episodes. Personal space? Traffic? Another couple episodes. Cows? Yep, you guessed it, yet another episode. The reality is that differences in culture creates a healthy curiousity which could easily be explored in a manner which is funny without going for the obvious jokes that cater to the lower end of the comedic spectrum.

That being said, I could identify with bits and pieces of the show. Building relationships (i.e., eating with the team) isn't the worst decision you can make. I too, when eating the Indian food at the office (which is admittedly rare), still tend to base my selections on color: I consider red good, yellow average, and green bad (just my personal preference).

The most accurate part of the episode from a business standpoint was when one of the characters was asking about the context of mistletoe as it relates to Christmas. Without that context, these items are simply items. It's easy enough to tell someone from another culture what a thing is, but without also teaching them context, that thing has absolutely no meaning. Of course, the writers took the opportunity to create a mistletoe belt that could be worn for novelty purposes to to try and garner a kiss "down there". The only bright side to this entire exchange was that lead to the only funny line of the episode, when the character responded, "This is how you celebrate the birth of your God?"

Bottom line, the show just wasn't very funny. As mentioned above, there's any number of topics this show could explore around living and working in another country that could prove insightful while still being extremely funny. The producers and writers of this show seem to have taken the easy way have fairly low expectations of what Americans might think is funny. Daniel Fienberg made the best observation I've read about what the show could have been in his review:

"On one imaginary hand, you could have a show about a young American worker who's so grateful to have a job and so intrigued by the idea of moving to a foreign country that he embarks to India determined to eagerly experience a foreign country and having a professional adventure while he's still young enough to enjoy it. Maybe he doesn't love everything he discovers there, but he's constantly having his expectations challenged and he knows that when he returns to the States in a few years, he'll have the sort of stories and experiences you can't pay for. Some weeks he could laugh at the Indians. Some weeks they could laugh at him. Occasionally the writers would have to do a bit of research to learn something about the country they were setting their show in. I would watch this show."

At the end of the day, the premise of this show has potential, and who knows, maybe future episodes will take advantage of that; however, the filtered view it presents of today's India will limit its appeal (and it's longevity). Plus, it just isn't funny.

1 comment:

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