Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. Let me first start off by saying that Himanshu Suri of Das Racist wrote an analysis of last night’s premiere episode of Outsourced for Stereogum. You should go read it. It’s really funny but also interesting, and provides a much more deeply engaged and thoughtful critique of the show than I ever could. But, if I may add my two cents? FUCK THIS SHOW IN THE FACE UNTIL IT DIES. Look, it is 2010. We’ve only got two years left. And when the highly advanced A.I.-mecha are sifting through the ice fields looking for buried digital repository droids filled with memories of human mothers, is this really the note we want to go out on? This horrifyingly backwards, Xenophobic nightmare note? No. That could not possibly be how we want to go out.
One of the more disappointing aspects of this show is how many talented people worked on it. Creator (or adapter, I guess) Ken Kwapis has created good (read: non-racist) television for decades. The writing staff is solid. The actors have decent comedic timing and nice faces and whatever else actors need to get hired on a show for NBC. Considering how much bureaucratic red-tape is involved in getting a network sitcom from treatment to pilot, much less pilot to actual show, it is that much more incredible that at no point during that long and frustrating and expensive process did anyone say “Hey, how about we DON’T fill a coveted Thursday night comedy slot with a show that feels like the start to some kind of race riot we didn’t even know was a possibility.” A
rare miss, NBC.
But of course the MOST disappointing aspect of this show is how it is so terrible and racist.
Look, I know that this is a sensitive subject, especially around here. Everyone wants to think of themselves as a good person, and the fact is, most people are good people. That’s not really the issue. You can have benign racist impulses and be a good person. You can even make a brown-face minstrel show and be a good person. I am sure that everyone involved with Outsourced had nothing but the best intentions (or at least nothing but the decent enoughest intentions) and set out to make the funniest comedy series they could. Unfortunately, the funniest comedy series they could make is not funny, and is also offensive. And gross.
Let me put it this way: the final joke of the season premiere of Outsourced is a joke about how Indian food gives you diarrhea. REALLY? They sell Indian food in strip malls in Wisconsin now, guys. We all agree that Indian food is delicious. Of course, the final Indian food will give you diarrhea joke that ends the episode is actually a call back to an earlier scene that ALSO suggested that Indian food would give you diarrhea, but that suggestion wasn’t borne out until the end. IT’S CALLED SUSPENSE, LOOK IT UP. And that earlier scene began with our hero, Todd, in the Mumbai call center cafeteria staring at delicious steam trays of Indian food with horror on his face. HORROR! To quote from Suri’s essay: “what 20-something, college-educated American professional who would head to India before looking for a new job hasn’t ever had Indian food? At one point the main character identifies a dish as “yellow and green stuff”. You know that’s Saag Paneer dude.”
At another point in the show, an Indian man does a strip-teasy dance routine to the Pussycat Dolls “Don’t Cha.” Admittedly, it has been a little while since I have looked up the actual dictionary definition of “minstrel show,” but I do believe that some form of song/dance intended for the debasement of the performer in order to entertain the culturally superior audience is in there somewhere.
Of course, the counter-argument to all of this is that humor is humor and jokes are jokes, and nothing is off limits, and it’s the differences between us that bring us together. Sure. I get it. There is another scene in the premiere when Todd tries to explain to his new employees the humorous intricacies of American popular culture using a mistletoe belt buckle. The idea, of course, is that American culture is just as ridiculous if not more ridiculous than Indian culture if you start to think about it. Again: sure. I get it. But that reasonable and important point is drowned out, because it is two minutes of a 22 minute sitcom. “Holy shit, is that a cow in the street?” Todd says. “Cows are sacred here,” his Indian co-manager Rajiv says. “Haha, you fuckers are fucking crazy,” Todd says. And for the record: novelty cheesehead hats are not the same as turbans, and it is genuinely offensive to make that comparison! One guy’s name is Manmeet, so you can imagine how funny THAT IS. “Your name is Manmeet?” “Yes.” “Faggot.” There’s another “American” on the show, Charlie, who is supposed to represent our insufferable boorishness, and he does it very well. But even here, he points at a professional Indian man dressed in a sharp suit and says “HEY YOU, COME HERE!” and then proceeds to use him as a puppet to make his point before waving his hand and dismissing him. For every step this show takes to “humanize” Indian people (as if we weren’t already in agreement that they were human because of how it is fucking 2010) it takes two steps to reduce them to dehumanized comedic props. Gross!
Look, it’s the first episode. Maybe they’re just getting all the horrifyingly tone deaf racist kinks out now to clear the way for a modern, post-racial (LOL, not a thing) show that revolutionizes the very idea of what a comedy even is. Just kidding.