“Outsourced”: a Comedy Ride Driven by an Ugly American

by Carol Zehosky

Office based sitcoms such as The Office and Parks and Recreation are windows that reflect, magnify and show an audience the humor in everyday office routines and relationships. These shows work on a cultural level playing field. Too bad, there is not a cultural level playing field in the new NBC sitcom Outsourced.

Stock Characters and Stock Cliches

Outsourced is on NBC on Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. Todd (newcomer Ben Rappaport) is the young, fresh out of college manager reassigned from Kansas to Mumbai to run his firm’s call center. In India, his first task is to educate his staff about American culture in order to sell the company’s American novelty products including, foam cheese hats and fake body fluids.

Todd demonstrates the humor of foam cheese hats by wearing one around the office. When his office erupts in laughter, he makes the comment, “Let’s not make fun of each other’s headgear. You guys have some pretty crazy looking hats yourself.” The laughter stops and a male worker who is wearing a turban walks out of the office. Todd then tries to save himself by adding “mostly the women,” as the camera pans to a female employee who is wearing a hijab and an insulted look.

A Heavy Reliance on Cultural Stereotypes

In typical type cast of the “ugly American,” Todd does not apologize or attempt to use this situation as a cross-cultural learning experience, he just shrugs his shoulders and moves on to the next foot in mouth moment.

Many times a show’s pilot will start slowly and gain momentum. Hopefully the writers will level the cultural playing field by educating Todd, which will go a long way in removing the international stereotype of the “ugly American,” then allowing the rest of the cast to develop their characters. By focusing on the cast as people and not poorly written stereotypes there is the potential for some funny moments.

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