'Outsourced': NBC lost in translation

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We expected a bloodbath during the TCA Press Tour on Friday, July 30, as they presented " Outsourced," its new "Office" style pilot set in Mumbai, India about the Indian people who answer our customer service calls. 

In many ways, outsourcing is America's most widely known dirty little secret. "Outsourced" exploits that fact.

So, the bloodbath never quite materialized, though the first question tossed at the cast and executive producers did call out the show's use of stereotypes.

"Where we approach this is not from a mean-spirited place," says executive producer Robert Borden. That led many media folks around us to mutter, "Mean-spirited or not, isn't is still a stereotype?"

In their defense, the executive producers cited that a third of the writing staff is Indian and the stereotypes are ones they feel are universal and not necessarily ethnic. For example, one of the characters is based on "that guy" in the office that just talks your ear off, which they say they is relatable to everyone independent of ethnicity.

As far as location, an NBC executive had mentioned earlier in the week that she would like to see some changes in the show, such as making the office look more like Mumbai and not L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. In response, the executive producers said that the office's windows look out on India, they expect to get out of the office to the streets and characters' homes and in effect make the audience feel "transported to India."

We fear this is one of those situations when the non-Indian executive producers (who admitted they've never visited a call center in India or for that fact, India at all) could say anything that would relieve our fears that the show is well, let's just say it, racist. No matter what the EPs said, it sounded like an excuse for having an upper-class white male perspective.

What did work? When the Indian cast members actually explained how their families felt about the pilot.

"My family finds it hilarious. They're very supportive and excited," said cast member, Rizwan Manji who plays Rajiv. "So, to answer your question, they think it's hilarious."

Anisha Nagarajan, whose character, Madhuri, suffers from extreme shyness and is one of the bright lights of the pilot, says, "My family is just happy to have such a large contingent of Indian actors on TV."

And it is indeed a plus that TV will get such a large amount of typically underrepresented color on network TV. And the EPs finally won points when they mentioned that Madhuri will get caught singing by Ben Rappaport's character, Todd, and he will push her into entering a large singing contest a la "American Idol" when that's not at all her idea of success. 

That's an interesting twist on the "fish out of water" idea and it gives us hope that the cast and the Indian writers will be able to influence the storyline, so that they don't always depend on the Caucasian point of reference.

Will you be giving "Outsourced" a chance?

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Photo credit: NBC

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