So the email-writing campaign did not achieve its objective and NBC has cancelled Outsourced, which was sad news to wake up to on a Saturday morning.
I watched every episode of the season and am sorry to see it go. Ok, the writing may have been a bit uneven at times, but I chalked that up to the writers trying to write the show for the largest American audience they could hope to interest and entertain, while somewhere in the back of their minds attempting to not totally dumb-down (or water-down) Indian culture for the members of the South Asian community who would most certainly tune in to see how they’re being portrayed for middle Amrika.
While some critics (and others) piled on early and hard in expressing their dislike of the show, I ignored them. I watched and I stayed with it for a variety of reasons: first, because I was so pleased to see so many actors of South Asian origin (as well as five of the writers) employed and showcased in one sitcom on a major US network, and as part of a line-up on what has traditionally been a big TV night at NBC. It was thrilling to witness this historic and ground-breaking moment in time taking place, and I was really pulling for the show to succeed.
Moreover, I was curious to see which other South Asian actors would make guest appearances during the season (such as Samrat Chakrabarti as the arrogant head of the elite call center on the Holi episode or Ajay Mehta as Vimi’s haughty Dad).
Another reason I stayed with the show was because I was curious to see how they would explain Indian and American cultural practices while also managing to be funny, and I wondered if they’d ever accidentally step on any toes.
But finally, I tuned in every week because Outsourced grew on me. There was humor, but there was also heart as the characters’ lives and worries and foibles were revealed bit-by-bit. The story lines around sexual harassment in the workplace, going on an office retreat and competing on an Indian Idol type show were some of my favorites, as different cast members had their chances to shine. These scenes often included music, such as Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan) singing her solo in the competition and revealing what an amazing voice she has, or Gupta (Parvesh Cheena) leading a dance number (or actually, as it would turn out, several dance numbers).
As a Hindi movie fan, I was delighted by how many times the show managed to insert excerpts of recent fillum songs (like when they played Dil Se’s legendary “Chaiyya Chaiyya” as Todd attempted to squeeze onto the train to get to the retreat? Perfect!) and hoped that this would send my fellow Americans to their computers to find out what those songs were and maybe get interested in the huge industry most likely known to them as Bollywood.
I must confess I did find myself at times pondering “Ok, I watch this show because of a deep interest in India, but what about people out there who have no connection to the country at all, what do they make of Outsourced and what are they liking that brings them back each week?”
As we now do the Saturday-morning-quarterbacking and speculate on what led to the demise of Outsourced, I have to wonder if it was due to fact that the writers had so many characters from the ensemble to develop and flesh out in such a short timeframe each episode. If this were a one-hour drama like ER, for example, you’d have had double the time to reveal each person’s back story and what makes them tick (heck, that took years on Lost!).
For Outsourced, the writers had 20+ minutes to do that AND make people laugh AND all the while include some brief explanation of some aspect of Indian or American culture, all of which couldn’t have been easy (in fact, this is the image that comes to mind when I think of them trying to do all that). I believe that is also why Outsourced took a little while to find its feet and reveal the heart at the center of it all. It’s a pity NBC couldn’t see fit to give them at least one more season before choosing to pull the plug.
To be fair, though, I do give NBC credit for having done what no other network has dared since the ill-fated ABC attempt with All American Girl (starring Margaret Cho) back in 1994. And I liked how they included extras on the Outsourced website, describing elements of Indian culture for the uninitiated. For example, they have this about wedding traditions, as well as quizzes about India and Indian baby names.
One complaint about the NBC Outsourced site: the merch! How can a show set in a country that has such a long and rich tradition of beautiful, diverse, color-laden design yield such bland t-shirts and the like? Hello, Tantra anyone? What a sqandered opportunity!
I will miss the characters and the actors from the Thursday night line-up on NBC: Gupta/Parvesh Cheena, Rajiv/Rizwan Manji, Madhuri/Anisha Nagarajan, Manmeet/Sacha Dhawan, Asha/Rebecca Hazlewood and yes, I suppose also their babe-in-the-desi-woods boss and foil, Todd/Ben Rappaport. In addition to seeing them on the show, it has been fun following them on Twitter. Congrats to all of them for their work this past season and I look forward to seeing them in other projects.