Since it debuted, the biggest beef against Outsourced has been that the show is a racist, xenophobic piece of trash. I don't disagree with these claims. Too many of the jokes on the show are based around the assumption that Indian people are crazy and WEIRD to be overcome by each episode's half-hearted attempts to similarly sock it to Americans. I could write a long-winded screed about majority and minority viewpoints here and how offering up a few gags about how Americans are just as weird as Indians doesn't negate the fact that the Indian gags are even more offensive, but it strikes me that most of the people who feel the same way as me on this issue have already moved on from the show. Plus, there's pretty much nothing I could say on the matter that would convince the show's weirdly devoted fan base (well, I find all fan bases weirdly devoted). I think the show's producers are responding to the xenophobia flap by trying to play up the "Americans are silly too!" gags, and while that's misguided, it at least suggests that given enough time, the show could stumble its way toward something more culturally cognizant.
No, I want to take on the show on the grounds that pretty much everyone - even its fans - agrees is terrible about it: In every way, Outsourced is a lame, '90s workplace sitcom of the sort that NBC might have stuck after Seinfeld or Frasier for a while, but everything about that lame sitcom has been sent to India in a weird attempt to be relevant. (The one criticism of the show I don't get: We should not like the show because outsourcing has hurt lots of real American families. Yes, outsourcing has hurt lots of real American families. That doesn't mean a funny show couldn't be made out of the topic.) I recently got into a lengthy argument with some Outsourced fans who saw lots of promise in the show, but even they had to admit that the show's joke writing and story development were frequently lazy. What do they see in the show? I dunno. Maybe they just really wanted a show on TV that expressed life from a viewpoint other than that of upscale white people. I get this point-of-view. I really do. (It's half the reason I'm still watching The Middle, which is at least about downscale white people.) But it doesn't excuse the shittiness of the show.
Take a look at tonight's episode, "Bolloween." Is there anything in this episode that wouldn't have been just as tired and lame had it appeared on Suddenly Susan or Veronica's Closet? I suppose the lack of a braying live studio audience makes it slightly less offensive that the jokes just aren't funny - there's nothing worse than an audience that keeps cracking up at stuff that just doesn't play at home - but there's a shrugging quality to much of the humor that seems to suggest the writers think the accents the actors use will make everything automatically funny. In "Bolloween," the cultural humor mostly moves to the back seat. Though there are a few gags about how the Indians have little concept of Halloween and why it's celebrated, this is mostly shoved aside in favor of the grand '90s workplace sitcom traditional Halloween episode. Everyone puts on faux-clever costumes and gets together for a party where the romantic leads nearly make out.
If there's one aspect of the show I could grow to like, it's the relationship between Todd and Asha. It's the one area of the series where the producers show any originality whatsoever. I usually hate will-they/won't-they relationships because they come up with such contrived reasons to keep the partners apart, but the Todd and Asha stuff has started to become interesting because what's keeping the partners apart is a pretty serious cultural divide. (This is one of the few places where the show treats India's uneasy relationship with its increased modernity with anything like a vague attempt at understanding.) The two clearly want to be together, but Asha is dealing with the fact that her parents wish to choose a valuable husband for her, and some upstart American isn't on the list. To that end, the stuff revolving around this pairing in the episode was borderline refreshing. Tonya kisses Todd, and Asha storms out. He thinks it's because of some lame love triangle storyline, but it really turns out that a friend was chewing out Asha for the inappropriate way a single woman on the husband market such as herself was dressed, even though her Cleopatra costume was far from risque. I wouldn't say I LIKE the Todd and Asha storyline, but it's at least subverting expectations. (Even then, though, it's doing a pretty poor job. The storyline actually ends with the two kissing, then the declaration of "We can't do this!" which was old in the '80s.)
You can't really say that of anything else on the show. The lengthy midsection of this episode brings out a Halloween party straight out of those lame sitcoms. Most of the characters come dressed either as dated pop culture icons - Todd's Hugh Hefner costume could be funny, but the show doesn't really do anything with it - or as elaborate puns. Tonya is a spice rack (in that she wears a bunch of spices as a bra and not a lot else). Manmeet is a chick magnet (in that he glues a bunch of rubber chickens to a cardboard magnet hung around his neck). Gupta comes dressed as a "successful American businessman," which means he wore the pimp costume (BECAUSE HE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND AMERICANS, HA! … sorry, promised not to do that). And, of course, somebody comes dressed as Todd and makes fun of his American ways, though this mostly just floats by as a singular gag.
All of this feels disappointingly trite. I mean, it's not like I was expecting Outsourced to pull out one of the great Halloween episodes of all time or anything, but it does feel like the show is just doing a Halloween episode because somebody at the network asked them to. There are threatened chainsaw massacres, all done in jest but actually terrifying to the people at the party. There are jokes about how Manmeet attracts one of Tonya's air hostess friends, though he then keeps his distance, the better to resist temptation. There are some of the laziest music choices I've heard in a show in ages (including the Ting Tings and Phoenix). And none of it really comes together, in a way that suggests the writers really had a storyline for the episode beyond, "What if it was Halloween, but we were in India?"
Usually, when a show attracts a certain fan base like Outsourced has, I can at least appreciate what they see in the series. But I've watched four episodes of this show, now, and I still don't get why anyone would be so excited by what they see here as to keep watching, hoping the show fulfills its promise. It's still the same show it was in the pilot, which is to say that it's xenophobic, yes, but, worse, it's incredibly, incredibly lazy. Put another way, the episode begins with Todd scaring Rajiv with a fake spider that Rajiv then tries to kill, then ends with Rajiv scaring Todd with an actual spider. The one falls so disappointingly into the other that it seems almost as if the show should know the need to pull out something new, something surprising. Instead, we just end up right where we started, with no real attempt to shock or even coerce us into laughter.