After the seamless 90 minutes of laughter, smiling and general contentment with the state of the TV universe you get NBC’s block of “Community,” “30 Rock” and “The Office,” the comedown with “Outsourced” can feel quite jarring.
The network’s only new submission to the comedy canon this fall, “Outsourced” follows a young professional named Todd (Ben Rappaport) to an Mumbai call center, when his company — a manufacturer of American novelty gifts — downsizes and moves its operation to India. Todd, already dealing with the culture shock of a move abroad, has to school a ragtag group of employees on the nuances of American pop culture while they try to sell whoopee cushion and fake vomit.
As you might expect, the results are pretty offensive, but not even for their obvious racial and cultural ignorance. It’s the laziness with which every element of this show was assembled that makes “Outsourced” such an annoying blister of a television series.
For starters, the suggestion that that the show takes place in the same hemisphere as India is the only laughable point in the pilot. In a day of CGI and cheap location b-roll — think “Undercovers” faux-globe-trotting first episode — how is it that all “Outsourced” can muster is a few shots of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley at odd angles?
And the office in which 90 percent of the series takes place could easily pass for the Buffalo branch of Dunder Mifflin — though this might be excusable if everyone and their mother hadn’t just seen “Slumdog Millionaire” last year.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t also dwell on the crass attempts at humor. Indian food is gross and makes you have to go to the bathroom! Misogynist Eastern cultures produce timid women! Don’t you just hate it when you call customer service and get one of those horrible foreigners? It’s nothing that people with senile, racist grandparents haven’t already been rolling their eyes at for years.
“Outsourced” does show some signs of self-awareness. The character Charlie (“The Drew Carey Show’s’ Diedrich Bader) is meant to be the face of the ugly, ignorant American — the opposite of the naive but evolving Todd — but then why is it that he gets the last knowing laugh in the first episode?
Of course, there’s also the call center operators, a largely American and British group of actors slumming in what has to be the absolute epitome of typecasting. They’re all good at what they do — particularly Rebecca Hazlewood and Anisha Nagarajan — but there are moments when you swear you can see the shame in their eyes. No one here can possibly think they’re making good television.
Fortunately for them, their Nuremberg will likely just be a few awkward moments during auditions next pilot season.
“Outsourced” could evolve — maybe easily, given the caliber of some of the cast — into a show worthy of NBC’s storied Thursday lineup, as many of its brethren with rocky starts did. But this isn’t a series to root for. And giving it the opportunity to improve amounts to a vote of approval for something that, at its genesis, is offensive both in its choice of jokes and underestimation of its audience.