New Series. Episode 1.01: Pilot premiers September 23rd, 9:30/8:30 central. Series airs Thursday Nights at 9:30/8:30 central on NBC
Those who've devoted their time to watching Parks and Recreation grow into one of the smartest, funniest episodic sitcoms on broadcast television over the past two years may be predisposed to contractually hate NBC for replacing it with Outsourced. Just as Thursday night's Must See TV kicks back into high gear for fall of 2010.
Sure, at first, it was easy to despise Parks and Recreation for being an Office clone, shot in that increasingly disreputable mockumentary format. The two shows had their similarities, but Parks and Recreation soon proved weird enough to garner our undying attention. In its second season, it flourished, breaking out of the dense shadow of its comedic predecessor.
There isn't one actor on that show who hasn't captured our hearts and utter devotion. (Andy is my favorite...No, I love Ron Swanson...Wait, Ann? You are so sexy and intelligent...Though, April, I feel a mighty powerful crush coming on. God, I haven't even gotten to Tom, or Jerry...Then, of course, there's Leslie Knope...). With Parks and Recreation heading into its third year on the air, we were more than willing to give it our time and love. The third season is usually make or break it time for any on-going thirty-minute series. That special moment where a sitcom really finds its stride. Parks and Recreation had all its ducks in a row. Not to mention Rob Lowe and Adam Scott were set to return. And the possible love triangle of Louis C.K. added into the mix would have proven a fine Sweeps event.
But no! In their infinite wisdom, NBC has decided to make us wait until 2011 for fresh episodes of Parks and Recreation. Instead giving us yet another in a long-line of "work place" sitcoms; a shambles of a show entitled Outsourced. They've done away with the fauxumentary cameras, which offers the Pilot a strangely dated aura. Add to this our introduction to the main character, who works for the very generic sounding warehouse "Mid American Novelties" (which is a little more colorful than Dunder/Mifflin's storeroom full of paper stock, but proves to be more than just a mild distraction), and we have what looks to be a uber-fakey facsimile of a well-worn television trope.
If it weren't for all the fake blood, plastic dog shit, and boob trophies, this could be a straight spin-off of The Office. The pilot is even helmed by that show's star player of a director Ken Kwapis. Our hero is Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport making his acting debut), a young up and coming college graduate who returns from management training to find an empty office awaiting him. Health care costs have delivered a swift blow to his call center staff, and the job has been outsourced to India. Todd has two choices now. He can either step down and leave Mid American Novelties (an utterly blasé and worthless company name if ever there was one on a major sitcom; this wouldn't float in an Internet short shot on a Nikon Coolpix), or he can fly to India and head up the call center. If he does this for the company, they will eventually bump him up to Vice President. But it means leaving his family, friends, and country behind.
What is his decision? In an all too relatable bit of throwaway dialogue, Todd utters, "I have $40,000 in student loans. So I'm gong to go pack for India." With that one simple declaration, in one of those pilots that are essential in setting up the entire plot of the forth-coming season, Todd is on a plane, headed for his new position as Vice President of Sales. The immediate problem with the show, as a whole, is that we never, ever believe that Todd is actually in India. As he travels down the street in a scooter cab, it's glaringly obvious that he is swimming against a blue screen. One by one, we meet his co-workers, who all toil away in a drab office building that looks like a studio back lot, somewhere in Sherman Oaks. The funniest line to come out of these introductions: "My dream is to not have to use the toilet after my fart."
This particular set-up is a quick one. And the Pilot's simple story is mostly about dealing with the cultural differences of being a US citizen suddenly forced to work in a country like India. Todd's new underlings have no understanding of American novelties. And Todd doesn't know not to eat the stewed pepper-beef in the cafeteria. As the only recognizable face in the whole cast, The Drew Carey Show's Diedrich Bader plays the only other American at the call center. He heads up the call staff of All-American Hunter, and serves as a Totem of wisdom, bestowing Todd with all the previous mistakes he, himself, has made traversing this new cultural landscape. Like the pepper-beef, which had him hot-locked to his toiler seat for five, count them, five full days.
The humor never shoots for more than lowbrow verbal gags. The call-in staff consists of your typical sitcom staples, only with an Indian makeover flavor. Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan) is the young achiever, and second banana to Todd. His name is meant to illicit laughs anytime anyone says it, but it's a groaner. Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan) is Police Academy's Cadet Laverne Hooks incarnate, a woman so meek and whisper quiet, you'll see the punch line coming from a mile away. Pippa Black plays Tonya, an Australian hottie working for Koala Airlines' call center. Her introduction is slightly embarrassing as she runs through generic Aussie slang. What makes the scene particular cringe-worthy is watching Diedrich Bader in the back ground, who can't help but lip-sync along to the lines of the other actors as they say them. Tonya serves as the much needed, beyond clichéd unrequited love interest.
Then there is Gupta, who delivers the Pilot's one true laugh-out-loud moment, but only for those who know writer Fred Topel on a personal basis. Actor Parvesh Cheena, as the office chatter box you want to avoid at all costs, captures Topel's looks and mannerisms to a T, making for the only unique caricature on the entire show (am I aloud to say unique and caricature in the same sentence? Not sure...) If the show lasts for more than a few episodes, he will clearly be the break out favorite.
Outsourced spends its first thirteen minutes setting up the various different characters. Then we get ten minutes of Todd trying to bond with his staff. Of course the Indians don't understand American culture, or why we, as a nation, would want to run our credit through the roof purchasing fake vomit. I don't buy that conceit. The Indians have to have some understanding of throwaway pleasures. It takes some coaxing from Todd, but soon, he is turning his minions into good little salespeople. Especially Madhuri. Who's voice gradually rises above sea level to give us that much needed Rocky moment, where she sells not one, but two goofy pieces of trash. Then the Pilot ends on a fart noise, as Todd evacuates that last bit of peppered-beef on his fifth straight day of Indian toilet training.
Do the makers of Outsourced think this is funny? Or do they realize that this first try belongs in the shitter? Its not that Outsourced is particularly bad. It's just bland. And it looks like a sitcom you might see in a show mocking sitcoms. It can only get better from here, but there is not a glimmer of hope shimmering within its intestines. I don't feel the need to return to this world for a second episode, let alone twenty-two more of them.