A fun, charming series that deserved better
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 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,
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.
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