Tuned In

Test Pilot: Outsourced

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Outsourced, NBC

The Premise: Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport), a middle manager with a novelty-products company, returns from a seminar to find his entire office has been “rightsized.” He can keep his job—if he moves to India, where the new call center will be located. On arriving, he finds that he’s been given the “B team,” a set of local misfits who haven’t learned to mimic American mores well enough to sell novelty mugs and “mistletoe belts” to Americans over the phone. Todd has to shape up his crew, or get shipped out.

First Impressions: I actually think this premise is a fantastic idea. But first, it seems more like a movie—in fact, it was a movie, in 2006. And second, I’m not sure NBC got the right team to execute it. Mike Judge would kill with this idea, either on the big screen or in a series. It’s the kind of idea you could play for biting satire about American consumer culture and its spread (that is, the route Mike Judge would probably take it). Or you could play it as a more subtle, sophisticated story about the disorienting effects of globalization (that is, what you might get from Greg Daniels, who adapted The Office for America and did King of the Hill with Judge). Or—you could just play it up for big fat fish-out-of-water jokes and broad culture-clash gags like a dorky Indian guy singing and dancing to a Pussycat Dolls song as a way of learning American culture. As Mrs. Tuned In pointed out when we watched the pilot, the execution just seems a couple of decades dated. First, because in the global culture of today, it would be hard to find a call center full of people so unaware of American pop culture. Second, because a business based on people calling in orders from a paper catalog, while it still happens, seems out of date in the Internet era. (But it allows for more fake-vomit gags than you would get in a tech-support or credit-card call center.) And finally, because Outsourced will seem out of place on the same schedule with the more sophisticated The Office, 30 Rock and Community. For every sharp line that hits, there’s a predictable gag about sacred cows or the gastrointestinal effects of spicy food. On the plus side, it’s good to see Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) back in a regular role, as another American manager abroad.

Do I Want to Watch Another Episode?: Want? I want Parks and Recreation back in the fall, but Outsourced got its space until midseason. But I probably will watch Outsourced again, because it’s in NBC’s Thursday-comedy block and because the premise is good enough that the show could turn around.