I’ve not yet had a chance to see the series premier of the new NBC sitcom Outsourced, but I’ve been looking forward to it for a few weeks now, curious as to whether it would have the guts or smarts to be anything but racist. Willa Paskin over at Vulture has answered the question for herself, deciding that no, it does not have the guts or smarts to be anything but racist.
Outsourced is a show about an American man, played by Ben Rappaport, sent to India to oversee his company’s call center. The premise alone strikes immediate anger in flag-waving xenophobes who are just as quickly driven to poke fun. The jokes—about the food, clothes, accents, names, etc.— basically write themselves. The tricky part, though, and where the degree to which the show is or is not racist hangs in the balance, is the distinction between whom exactly we’re supposed to be laughing at. Are we laughing at the narrow-minded American or with him?
Paskin compares Rappaport’s character, Todd, quite unfavorably to Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office:
Michael Scott. The Office’s boss man’s stock and trade is the insensitive, politically incorrect remark. But the difference between Michael and Outsourced’s Todd is that Michael is openly recognized as an impolitic boar. When Michael says something inappropriate, it’s clear the writers know it’s inappropriate, but it’s safe to laugh at a boob. (Especially if you’re the kind of sensitive, progressive person who does giggle at other culture’s hats but would never ever admit as much.) But unlike Michael, Todd’s not supposed to be an impolitic boor. He’s supposed to be our point of identification, our American, our relatively open-minded white guy. He’s supposed to be our Jim Halpert. When he opens his mouth and says something inappropriate, there is no acknowledgment from the writers that it’s intended to be inappropriate, and it falls flat.
Lots of other interesting stuff going on here as well, specifically about the prospects of success for a show that asks us to identify with an all-Indian cast as our only alternative to identifying with an ignorant dope who’s supposed to be likable.