Real Live Customer Support Gal Weighs in on NBC’s ‘Outsourced’

October 6, 2010

Ok, “Outsourced,” let’s be honest, the pilot last week was a disaster. The writing was half-assed and smacked of a late homework assignment; the culture clash between Indians and one American guy from the Midwest was dumbed down to insults being thrown by both sides, and frankly, I was impressed we actually made it to this weeks’ episode.

Though the beginning half of the episode starts out with a few predictable let-us-reiterate-how-different-and-American-we-are-in-India gags, (Todd, the Amerian manager says babies suck on ribs, not pacifiers, in Kansas, and the overdone carnivore vs. herbivore debate wages on), the episode eventually moves past the schtickiness into more normal office matters.

Despite moving overseas to save money, sales at the American novelties company, around which the show is based, are down, and that means one employee is headed toward a pink slip.

The employee in question is Manmeet. He’s been chatting with women customers rather than selling to them, and his sales are down as a result. So Todd takes it upon himself to help Manmeet get back on track. Manmeet’s phone calls are actually pretty funny, and the freedom he has talking to these women, who hail from such exotic places as Des Moines and Chattanooga (!?) is actually an interesting look at how cultures collide over the phone.

“The women on the phone don’t care what caste I’m from or what my father does,” Manmeet notes, and it lets him be someone he can’t be in his country. Is that good or bad? Who’s to say. But it’s well played and a much cleverer portion of the show. Todd realizes that they can sell Manmeet’s lady friends novelties to ease their disappointment at the prospect of losing Manmeet’s calls. Those sales save his job. It’s predictable, but a reasonable tidy up of the situation. The best part is when Manmeet offers to program a teddy bear with his voice so he can talk one of his lady callers to sleep. He asks what she’d like him to say and then he responds in his very innocent sweet way, “Linda, that’s filthy, I can’t make a cute little teddy bear say that.”

After Manmeet saves his job by pulling an all-nighter selling to lonely ladies, Todd happily informs the sniveling assistant manager, Ragiv, that downsizing is off the table and Manmeet is staying on. And then there’s a rather decent exchange between Todd and Ragiv:

Todd: “You give someone a chance and good things happen. That’s how karma works.”
Ragiv: “Thank you for the lesson on karma, maybe I can come by later for some sitar lessons.”

Finally! a smart retort! The episode ends with Todd giving Ragiv the head bobble as a response, and me thinking I didn’t hate that.

I will say it’s getting better, definitely better. Great? No, but better. I mean, it’s a silly sitcom, so maybe my expectations were too high to begin with. Though when you’re stacking a new show with “The Office” and “30 Rock,” expectations are obviously higher than average.

So here are the things that are going right:

  • The characters are becoming people rather than, well, caricatures of lame stereotypes.
  • A storyline or two is starting to emerge.
  • The jokes are almost not entirely reliant on cultural differences, and I’m actually starting to think that “Outsourced” might have potential. After all, isn’t that the American way of thinking (to quote Ragiv in this episode).
  • A scene involving employees evaluations; because they’re about the employees and not sacred cow gags.
  • The Indian head shake, or the head bobble.
  • Some sparks between Todd and Asha.

What’s still totally lame:

  • This damn carnivore vs. herbivore thing. When Manmeet brings Todd a “hamburger” which turns out to be made of lentils, and Todd actually spits it out. Meh.
  • The Kansas City boss who sets up his video chat as a stand up comedy stage and says, “How many Indians does it take to sell a novelty? One less than you have now.” Not funny; fairly demeaning.

In conclusion: This show started out shooting for the lowest common denominator humor-wise, but it’s definitely getting better, and I’m hopeful that it will keep moving past the dumbed-down humor and into some of the clever work we’ve come to expect from NBC. Either way, well done “Outsourced,” still not great, but improved, and maybe I’ll give you a chance and get some good karma out of it ;).

Every week, Zendesk customer advocate Kelly Hoffer offers a more expert point of view on each episode of NBC’s “Outsourced.” As a hip and happening gal who deals with customers all day, every day, she’s here to help share her insights on how the show portrays the relationships of the call center with its customers.