In 10 Words or Less
A fun, charming series that deserved better
Loves: good sitcoms
Dislikes: Quick cancellations
I watched the first few episodes of Outsourced when they first aired, and I wasn't too impressed. I distinctly remember wondering where they would go with it once the comedic element of "aren't they funny?" foreign culture got old. But, since the show aired as part of the high-quality Thursday night NBC line-up, I gave it an extended chance, and it grew on me. By the time the show ended, the show featured a large cast of well-defined and hugely likable characters and some very enjoyable adventures, giving the show a wholly satisfying run, to the point where its cancellation is less disappointing for what we'll miss than for what we're left with (namely the awful-looking Whitney.)
Based on the indie film of the same name, the show follows Todd (Ben Rappaport), a mid-western guy whose novelty company call center is outsourced to India, and he's sent along to run the show. As expected, he experiences some fish-out-of-water adjustment issues and has to learn how to work with his new staff, but there's also a romantic subplot involving Tonya, a sexy fellow call-center manager, and Asha, an attractive, but spoken-for employee (though the relationship with Tonya feels somewhat unnecessary, and distracts too much from the more interesting Asha storyline.) Eventually though, as the staff establishes itself, the show is as much, if not more so about them as it is about Todd.
While Rappaport does a fine job as the show's lead, and Pippa Black (Todd's Australian gal pal) and the always reliable Diedrich Bader (another very American call-center manager) offer good support, the show's true stand-outs are the staff manning the phones, who make their broad, somewhat stereotypical characters into a hugely likable cast that earns genuine laughs every episode. Sacha Dhawan and Parvesh Cheena are the stand-outs, playing Manmeet, the girl-crazy, yet awkward cool guy, and Gupta, the awkward, yet very awkward goofball. Together. they power the vast majority of the stories and provide many of the laughs, along with Rizwan Manji's hardline manager character Rajiv, who is just as funny in an entirely different, somewhat villainous way.
While these guys get the top billing, the rest of the cast is just as entertaining. While she doesn't get as many laughs as her castmates, Rebecca Hazelwood's Asha is excellent as Todd's romantic foil and his motivation for embracing his new home. On the other hand, Anisha Nagaraja is hysterical as the soft-spoken Madhuri, who really grows as a character as the show progresses. Even the smaller roles shine, like Thushari Jayasekera as the hilarious Pinky, popping up here and there to steal scenes, or Guru Singh's Ajeet. Singh has a handful of lines in the entire series, but you can't help but notice his imposing figure when he's in a scene. That they managed to give him a storyline despite his limited, non-verbal performances, and an enjoyable storyline at that, just further points to a strong level of character development at work in the series.
One of the forces working against the series was a perception that it relied on easy jokes and was racist in its portrayal of India and its culture. While the easy gag accusation isn't too far off (especially early on in the series) the racism claim seems incredibly off-base. Now, admittedly, not being Indian doesn't allow for the same perspective on the material, but normally it's pretty easy to sniff out racism (and my friends who are Indian enjoyed the show.) While the series may make plenty of jokes about Indian culture, they don't come off as mean-spirited and are often used to poke fun at ill-informed American views of a foreign culture, using the characters of Charlie and Todd's boss (Matt Walsh) as the buffoonish butt of the joke. The perception likely stems from the fact that Indian culture is so "foreign" to many viewers. This is probably the first network American sitcom where the majority of the stars neither look nor speak like the "average" American. If we rarely saw families gathering for an annual gorging followed by football watching, we might think Thanksgiving episodes were a bit "weird." The Indian culture informs the characters and provides the settings that give the show a unique flavor, but it is hardly the "joke."
What's rather interesting is the way the series ends, with a two-part finale that has a definite sense of closure, which is odd considering the show's fate was still up in the air after it aired. Yes, the series could have picked up with a second season without a problem, as the closure relates mainly to the first season's plots, but it feels very much like a show that was comfortable with how its story was told, giving everyone a turn in the spotlight before closing up shop. While one season may feel short-lived in America (though maybe not to the creators of Lone Star) it's nearly the equivalent of four seasons of a British sitcom, and is an unqualified success in that light. To be honest, it's pretty successful in many ways.
The 22 episodes that make up the first and only season of Outsourced are spread over three DVDs, which are packaged in a clear, single-width keepcase, with a promo insert, and episode info on the inside of the cover. It's not the worst packaging ever (that would be the envelopes in keepcases that Mill Creek is known for) but the three discs are stacked on a single hub, which is neither the safest packaging for the discs nor the most user-friendly. The discs feature static, anamorphic widescreen menus with options to watch all the episodes, select shows, adjust settings, check out extras and watch previews. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these episodes look very nice, with appropriate color that captures the beauty of the show's costumes and sets, especially in the series finale. There's some impressively high levels of fine detail on display, though there are spots where some noise and some minor compression artifacts in spots. Overall it's a fine presentation for DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks deliver the show's tremendous soundtrack, produced by Transcenders, with nice emphasis and separation in the side and rear speakers and some nice oomph in the low-end when appropriate. Most of the scenes are limited to dialogue in the center channel, but when they are outside, you get a decent amount of atmospherics in the surrounds. The musical moments are where things really get going though aurally,
Thankfully, the series will not pass on without comment, as there are a few extras included with this set, starting with three audio commentaries, one per disc, all of which were recorded after the series was given the boot. It's pretty obvious they built great relationships on the show, and the camaraderie is infectious, especially between Cheena and Magaraja, as they talk about the production of the series. DVD producers should take note from this set, with a variety of cast and crew participating, and key episodes represented. I know it's silly (and even mildly insulting) but hearing the actors' real voices is a kick.
- Pilot - Rappaport (on the phone), Shawan, producer Alexandra Beattie, producer/writer Robert Borden and producer/director Ken Kwapis
- A Sitar is Born - Cheena, Nagaraja and Borden
- Rajjiv Ties the Baraar, Part 2 - Manji (on the phone), Bader, director Victor Nelli Jr. and Borden
In addition to the commentaries, we get 13 deleted scenes.These are decent, but really shine whenever Madhuri's involved, especially the one from "Take This Punjab and Shove It." There's also a gag reel that runs 4:27. It is hardly shocking that Cheena, Bader and Manji get plenty of the spotlight here, but it seem like everyone on the show has a bit of a problem with cracking up.
The Bottom Line
I can't make a strong argument that NBC should have renewed Outsourced, outside of its genuine charm and enjoyable characters, however its absence from their Thursday line-up combined with the presence of Whitney is incredibly frustrating for anyone who enjoys sitcoms. If you didn't give the series a chance when it aired, it rewards some patience with its season-long improvement, and if you liked it, there are enough extras to make it worth your while to check out on disc.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.