The story of a yuppie American sent to manage a call center in India was devised by John Jeffcoat in 2006, his small film “Outsourced” quickly became a film festival hit, named the official film festival selection in Goa, Dubai, and Toronto. After a short release in 2007, the majority of the population forgot about the film, except for a small group of people that stumbled upon it on their NetFlix search. It was a story of self discovery and cultural discovery, as the lead character, Call Center Manager Todd Dempsey took a professional and spiritual passage through India. Likewise, his team of “B-list call center workers” discovered their potential and also benefited from what they came to understand about American culture. Through the eyes of “Toad” (as his name was mispronounced) the viewer discovered and appreciated another way of life.
In 2009, the Brits aired the show “Mumbai Calling,” which was based on a similar premise. NBC execs decided to take a chance on this trend and this Fall released “Outsourced,” based on the 2006 film by John Jeffcoat. With that announcement many questions followed: Will it help humanize Indian workers for U.S. audiences, or reinforce stereotypes? Does the arrival of the show mean that Americans have accepted offshore outsourcing as routine? And how realistic will it be? How will the South Asian diaspora receive it?
View “Outsourced” Pilot on Hulu.com:
The reviews among the South Asian community are mixed. There is a following that finds the show to be entertaining, and though it might not be at the caliber of its Thursday night family (which includes hits such as The Office and 30Rock), they support television’s first attempt at introducing a mostly Indian cast. There is also a large group that believes that “Outsourced” should “get better or get canceled;” Sepia Mutiny blogger and South Asian author V.V. Ganeshananthan belongs to that community.
Perceptions of South Asian culture have come a long way from the days of the Simpsons, Octopussy, and Indiana Jones. There is a non-stereotypical desi character on many popular prime time shows, including Emmy winner Archie Panjabi on “The Good Wife,” Adhir Kalyan on “Rules of Engagement,” Mindy Kaling on “The Office,” Maulik Pancholy on “30 Rock,” and Aziz Ansari on “Parks and Recreation.” Sendhil Ramamurthy, previously on “Heroes,” is now on “Covert Affairs.” Although the characters are not as richly diverse in subculture stereotypes as the cast of American Desi, the characters do take on real personalities within the subculture, not to mention they are “people” as much as “desi people.” This surge of relatable and authentic South Asian American characters leaves little room for stereotypical jokes and bad writing.
In its 3rd week, NBC’s “Outsourced” had 5.23 million viewers, which puts it ahead of “Fringe,” “The Apprentice,” “Community,” and “30 Rock.” The public is interested, interested enough to continue to watch and invest in the story line. Buffy, a fan of the show, commented to TheWeek.com, “It seems to fall right in line with TV and Media evolutionary patterns. We as Americans always begin with the comedic stereo-type and then start to branch out into understanding and acceptance. For instance you can look at sitcoms like Will & Grace or go further back to shows like 227 and Sanford and Sons. I say bless the producers with the gumption to hire an almost entirely Indian-American cast. And best of luck to those hard working actors who finally get to play a little more then just background.”
Yet on the other side of the issue there are American viewers who have decisively chosen to not watch the show to pay respect to the Americans that lost their jobs. The topic of American job loss was only slightly addressed at the beginning of the pilot. Doing a quick google search for “boycott Outsourced,” you’ll see a lot of hits come up from Facebook, Youtube, forums, and blog comments. Interestingly, most of these small movements do not have legs. The Facebook page only has 400 likes, which is a small number in comparison to the 5.23 million who watched the 3rd episode.
SPOILER ALERT! For those who have not seen the movie, you know that at the end of “Outsourced” the film, the call center loses its jobs to China. Where the build of that Indian workers are not so different from American workers reaches its peak. Now that we know that the Titanic sinks at the end of the story, it will be interesting to see how NBC plays out this new age story.
For the Simpson’s take on the outsourcing phenomenon check out Episode 17 of Season 17, “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bangalore.”