With all the negative comments I’ve read this morning about the new NBC sitcom Outsourced, I almost hesitate to say that I liked the show, didn’t think it was racist, thought it was very funny and gave windows into the cultural misunderstandings that can occur between two countries, in this case India and the United States.
Evidently the TV show is based on a movie of the same name, which is apparently much better than the show. People are saying, “Rent the movie Outsourced. Don’t watch the TV show.” I will rent the movie, but I will also watch the show. TV shows are usually not as good as movies, just as movies are not as good as the books they were based on. But for me, since I didn’t know about the movie, and don’t expect much at all from TV sitcoms, I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
One reason I liked it is that, as a former ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I know that Indian accents are hard for Americans to understand, sometimes. But I’ve never understood why Americans can’t make a little more effort to understand foreign accents. (Never mind the numbers of people who see no reason why they should learn a foreign language.) I’ve heard college students complain contemptuously that they have no idea what their brilliant Indian lecturer is saying. Of course, these students are usually sitting in the back of a huge lecture hall talking to their friends. If they’d only sit closer and pay attention, they’d get the hang of the accent and realize that it is possible to understand someone whose pronunciation of your language is a little different, but consistent. I am also so sick of people who can’t talk to Indians working at call centers and claim they can’t understand them at all. Why don’t they just listen?
A lot of people seem to think this show, Outsourced, is racist. I don’t agree. I think it will help to familiarize Americans with another culture-Americans who haven’t met many people from other countries or had the opportunity to travel. If the show makes light of some of the ways the Indian workers talk, it also makes humor out of the American manager’s dumb mistakes in dealing with them.
There is a character named Manmeet, for example, a handsome, likeable young man. When the new American manager, Todd, meets him, Todd says, “Man Meat? Your name is Man Meat?” He’s never heard many Indian names, obviously, and he translates it into his own version, which is outrageous to him. We see the bewilderment on Manmeet’s face. Todd has been obnoxious.
A little later, the same Manmeet, who has now made friends with Todd over their mutual avoidance of the too-talkative Gupta, takes a call from America and says: “K as in Krishna, P as in Punjabi, R as in Ramayana.” Todd has to teach him to use references that will be more familiar to Americans. I think this rings true, although of course it is exaggerated for comedy. Okay yes, way exaggerated-but funny. It rings true to me not because the Indians really say things like that, but because some Americans act as if they do.
Like a lot of people, I am thrilled to see a sitcom cast containing more dark-skinned people than light. There’s the aforementioned Gupta, who will provide a lot of humor as the show goes on, and possibly some sympathetic moments too. Manmeet is easy to like, young, handsome and enthusiastic. Asha is the beautiful woman who catches Todd’s eye the first day, and gives him another chance for a faux pas when he says her name is pretty. “It means hope,” she says. “Well,” he replies, “I Asha to get to know you better.” When she just stares at him patiently, he explains what he meant. She says she understood. She just didn’t think it was that funny!
Is this racist? I don’t think so. There are two other women also, who might compete for Todd’s-and viewers’–hearts, first a very shy one who talks in a whisper. When she takes her first call after Todd’s training, she’s great. The company, Mid America Novelties, sells useless items like whoopie cushions and fake blood through a catalog. She is talking to an American college student annoyed with his roommate, who wants some fake poop to put on the floor. The workers are supposed to promote add-ons, relevant extras, to the orders, so the quiet girl is able to add some fake vomit and ends the call with, “Sir, how would you like to pay for your vomit and poo?”
The third woman is a pretty Australian who manages a call center for Koala Air. Right after an American named Charlie, who manages the call center for All American Hunter, tells Todd that she won’t even give him the time of day, she walks up to their lunch table and introduces herself to Todd. We have another possible love interest. By the way, Charlie is a rather stereotypical, boorish person who imports his own junk food rather than eat the Indian food that, he tells Todd, will give him severe diarrhea for five days. We all know people who, while not quite as obnoxious as Charlie, refuse to try the local food when they travel to another country. Todd says he’s sure he’ll find some Indian dishes he likes. Yay, Todd!
Todd wasn’t happy at first to be transferred to India by the company where he just finished training as a manager, but he seems willing to try to fit in, and I love him for that. Also, he’s very easy to look at and has an appealing personality. I can see that he will have interesting experiences at the call center and with the people there.
Rajid, for example, is a kind of sleazy guy who wants Todd’s job. He rides with Todd through the noisy, crowded city when Todd first arrives, and he presents Todd with his Manager pin. After Todd thanks him, he notices Rajid’s pin, which is identical. Rajid is technically Todd’s assistant manager, but he can’t wait for the time when Todd goes back to America (“in glory”). When he says, “Your success is my success,” he means he’s dying to take over. Here are the seeds of a conflict between these two. You can already see Rajid’s impatience and, sometimes, thinly disguised disgust.
What I really like about this show is that it’s based on the reality of living in a different culture and shows things you have to get used to–linguistic and food differences, things that are difficult, and how easy it is to be offensive without meaning to. It also shows good things about the other culture. (You need to see this, Bubba. They are people like you, with hopes and dreams, intelligence, common sense, good cooking and a sense of humor.)
My only criticism of Outsourced is that it airs at 8:30 p.m. in the Midwest, and some of the humor is raunchy. Too much on prime-time TV is inappropriate for kids, of course, but I was really offended by the mistletoe that hangs on a man’s belt (so they have to kiss you “down there”) and the Jingle Boobs, or whatever Mid America Novelties called them. I could do without those things, as I’m sure many people could. Other than that, I think Outsourced is funny. I hope this new show makes it.
Sources: TV Finale, Entertainment Weekly
See also my other Outsourced articles:
Many Characters on Outsourced Are Indian, but Not India-Born
Outsourced Episode 7 Teaches Indian Culture
Outsourced Episode 10 Is Funny if at Times Crude
Note to readers: I listened when someone commented (below) that I should stick to writing about baseball and apple pie. Even though I hadn’t written previously on those topics, I decided to try. See the results:
Apples in America