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Outsourced: The Film and now the TV Series

by Sydney Levine
March 26, 2011 10:54 AM
4 Comments
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We were lucky to have worked with producers David Skinner and Tom Gorai on the film Outsourced and thrilled when it was turned into a TV series by NBC. Below the jump is a recent article from the editorial secton of the L.A. Times which is worth reading.


Outsourced Episode 17 NBC

OP-ED
Don't hate 'Outsourced'
It's affection, not racism, that fuels the humor in the NBC sitcom about a call center in India.


Sacha Dhawan as Manmeet on "Outsourced." (Chris Haston / NBC)

By Geetika Tandon Lizardi
March 21, 2011


Last pilot season NBC made a crazy move. It green-lighted an unlikely new sitcom set in a Mumbai call center. "Outsourced" was the hippest thing to happen to South Asians in the United States since Madonna discovered henna. As a writer, I was thrilled to hear about the show, not only because I'm an American of Indian descent but because I recently lived in Mumbai, helping my husband run a call center. Let's face it, if my agent couldn't get me an interview on this one, I might as well move back to Mumbai.

As it was, I got a dream job. "Outsourced" debuted to solid reviews from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. With no big-name stars to draw viewers, it still ranked as high as No. 2 among the network's scripted programs last fall. Even after a mid-season move to 10:30 p.m., "Outsourced" remains one of the most DVR'd prime time shows.

In my time on the writing staff, I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the show, especially from members of the South Asian community. Positive comments on Twitter after the show airs heavily outnumber critical ones, and according to the New York Times, even an audience of call center workers in India loved the show.

What's odd, then, is the level of vitriol directed at us by some reviewers. They've called it "insulting and condescending," filled with "offensive stereotypes" and based on "obvious cultural ignorance" on the part of the writers. New fans of the show seem to feel the need to post and tweet apologies for liking it: "I'm sorry but I really love 'Outsourced' " or "I think 'Outsourced' is hilarious. Don't hate me."

Based on their bylines, most of the offended parties are not from the Indian community. Perhaps they don't realize that we have five South Asian writers on the show telling stories that often come straight from our personal experiences. Or perhaps they don't believe Indians should make fun of themselves.

An early episode featuring the "Indian head bobble" came from my non-Indian husband's confusion in communicating with his call center staff. A sequence about Todd, the American boss, and his difficulties boarding an Indian train was inspired by a story another Indian writer shared about his grandmother, who spent a lifetime struggling to push her way onto crowded Indian trains, then employed the same tactics on her first visit to America, elbowing whole families to secure her spot on the monorail at Disneyland.

These stories made us laugh in the writers' room. Yet when we highlight cultural differences on the show, we risk being called offensive. One online comment vehemently accused us of racism for the following line: Todd: "I didn't know you guys celebrated Valentine's Day." But ignorance of a foreign culture isn't racist; it's just ignorance.

And as for stereotypes: Simple, recognizable characters are the building blocks of all comedies. The templates we build on are universal ones: the shy wallflower, the ruthless boss, the guy with no social skills. We don't use what I consider to be Indian stereotypes: doctors, engineers, spelling bee champs, Kwik-E-Mart owners. (And for the record, I'm a huge fan of Apu on "The Simpsons.")

"Outsourced" is not a documentary about call centers. It's a comedy, which means we tweak and exaggerate to get a laugh. Yet we also have moments of truth that are deftly realized.

When Todd encourages Madhuri, the call center's wallflower with a beautiful voice, to pursue fame and fortune as a singer, she informs him that she already has her dream job. It's a moment that rings true to a pragmatic Indian value system. When Todd encourages Rajiv, his Indian assistant manager, to pursue the woman of his dreams in spite of her father's disapproval, it also rings true. Americans aren't as hung up on parental approval, and Todd's encouragement proves to be a positive catalyst in Rajiv's life.

At the end of the day, the characters in "Outsourced" care about each other and learn from one another. Those who only cite offensive stereotypes are missing the spirit of the show (or perhaps they've never actually watched it). What I love most about "Outsourced" is that the humor ultimately comes from a place of affection.

It's pilot season again, which means TV execs are once more making decisions about which shows to green-light and which to cancel. My greatest concern is that "Outsourced" is being judged superficially — on the color of its skin, so to speak, instead of the content of its characters.

"Outsourced" has the potential to celebrate our cultural quirks, to build bridges between communities and perhaps, most important, to prove that there is a viable alternative to the "one brown face in a white ensemble" model of "diversity."

As the Hollywood Reporter put it, "It's still hard to believe that the network took a chance on it; the public should do the same."

Watch the show. Give it a chance. And don't feel guilty if you like what you see.

Geetika Tandon Lizardi has written for film, stage and television.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

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4 Comments

  • Paolo Cruz | July 16, 2011 7:21 AMReply

    Hey, I am neither Indian nor American but I love this show. Too bad it got canceled though. I love the way it had portrayed the BPO industry (though not accurately) Outsourced was watched in our office. I was right about one thing though, Americans will hate it... and they did... hence the cancellation.

  • Jetesh Amarnani | May 9, 2011 8:17 AMReply

    Hello..!!

    I am from Mumbai and have worked about 5years in a call center by USA , feel free to ask anything about call center i have it A-Z.

    -----

    Thank you for giving us this! SL

  • Jeff B | April 22, 2011 9:07 AMReply

    Without a doubt, outsourced brought me more laughs than any other show this past year. Only 40 rock was in the same league.
    I can't believe anyone would be offended by its humor. It clearly has great affection for indian culture and people. And it is, imo, much funnier and more endearing than parks and recreation.
    Maybe its a little racy for public TV, but that's prob why its on in a later time slot, after the kiddies should be in bed.
    It saddens me that a funny, well-written show like outsourced might be replaced with more lame, but cheap to make, "reality" shows (aren't there more than enough of them already!). Network executives are so clueless. Their trying to increase short term revenues by putting up only lame cheap-to-make "reality" crap is definately hastening network tv's demise!!!

  • Steve Warren | March 28, 2011 1:08 AMReply

    What can I say but "Amen"...or the Indian equivalent, whatever it is? Who do I lobby for renewal?

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