Last week, I dissed NBC’s new sitcom ‘Outsourced’ for being inaccurate, unfunny and offensive, but said I’d give it one last chance with the third episode. And you know what? Everything turned out better than expected!
It was true to life. Virtually all the characters behaved in recognisable – and interesting – ways. The cross-cultural interactions make sense, as do the intra-cultural ones, even if the show’s basis in American culture and humour means that the dialogue rushes by a bit faster than is natural and some outlandish scenarios are thrown up. Still, those less believable moments are made funny and interesting by good writing and performances. The rest of it seems pretty much right on the mark. All the characters are really growing into themselves now that they each have some space in which to do so, and they are all great to watch.
It was funny. Jokes! Funny jokes! After the cringe-filled disaster of the first two episodes, I was delighted to find myself chuckling throughout. There are several memorable lines – “I just wanted to inform you that Gurpreet is making a personal call”; “There’s no unsubscribing”; “Again… you are not my equals” – and they are crafted into some excellent, laugh-out-loud scenes. The moment in which Todd and Charlie decide to step out onto the dancefloor was classic, and the whole dinner date was hilarious. This was my biggest problem with the first two episodes: the lack of decent humour made the show a chore to sit through. This time around, it was genuinely entertaining.
It was completely respectful and inoffensive (almost). At last, America was removed from the pedestal. Todd was shown to be sometimes a bit of an asshole and Charlie bumbled his way awkwardly through all of his interactions with Tanya, and on the Indian side, the show gave simple, knowing insights into (among other things) the idea of arranged marriage in India and didn’t try to tear any of them down. One problem: Tanya, the token white girl (who also happens to be Australian), is a total nymphomaniac. She’s not above shoving foot into crotch under the table or dropping ludicrously broad innuendos in the street. While this is a stereotype that is occasionally true, it really didn’t need perpetuating.
That makes for one bum note in an otherwise very enjoyable 20 minutes of television. I will definitely be tuning in for the next episode. Things are looking up!
Sharell Cook is the author of Diary of a White Indian Housewife, a blog about her life as a white (Australian) woman married to an Indian man in Mumbai. Her subjects can spring from anywhere in the maelstrom of activity that surrounds her – visits with her new family, learning Indian recipes, the ongoing frustrations one inevitably feels as an outsider in India, and many moments of introspection at the path she has followed in life, to name just a few regular sources of inspiration.
Though a good number of her posts are illustrated with photographs, particularly the often amusing Snapshots of India, the biggest draw is her focused, straightforward storytelling. She seems to understand (or perhaps not even consider) the strength of the tales she has to tell and just gets out of the way, letting the various characters, locations and feelings in her life shine. Not surprisingly, she has a book in the works, with release slated for mid-to-late 2011.
If you glance at the comments on Sharell’s blog you will notice that she has legions of adoring fans – including myself – with whom she cheerily interacts. As such, she was willing to answer a few questions. All photos used with permission.
Why did you start blogging?
I started blogging for a number of reasons. One of them was because I felt that my life was going down an unusual path, and I wanted to share it with people so that they could benefit. I’d been trawling the blogs of people who were in a similar situation as me, but they didn’t always contain the information and detail I was looking for. So, I thought I’d write from the heart about my life and the kinds of things I would be interested in reading. Plus, I did have a notion in my head that I wanted to write a book some day. I thought having a blog would be a good platform with which to establish a presence and market myself to publishers. But still, I got a surprise when a publisher actually got in touch with me after reading my blog.
You mention a journal in your writing. Do you see ‘Diary of a White Indian Housewife’ as an extension of that journal?
I do, because primarily I write for myself, and my blog is where I record my experiences and thoughts. I’ve actually given up writing in my journal now. My blog is it!
What is your first memory of writing creatively?
I think my first memory defines why I was always supposed to be a writer! It was in my first year of school. The teacher told the class to narrate (obviously we couldn’t write properly at that young age, so the teacher had to write down what we were saying for us) and illustrate a story about something of our choice. Apparently, I was the only child who actually came up with a proper story. The rest of them just described situations and things.
Describe something that is beautiful to you.
Oh, there are so many things — but they’re always the small things. Usually, something to do with nature. A butterfly, a sunset or sunrise, the ocean, the smell of the mountains. An unexpected smile is always beautiful too.
Are you equal parts white, Indian, and a housewife, or does one of these labels apply to you more than the others?
This is such an interesting question. Funnily enough, being constantly surrounded by lovely brown skinned people, these days I often forget I’m white until someone treats me as such. I don’t feel like I’m a foreigner living in India anymore, and I find that I have trouble relating to many foreigners living in India. Often, I actually feel like I’m Indian, but sometimes I get reminded that I’ll “never be Indian” so I have a bit of an identity crisis. I do feel like I’m a housewife though, despite the fact that I work. I don’t keep staff (only a maid who comes every second day to wash the floors) and I’m always at home since I work from home.
You live in Mumbai, one of the world’s most populated and varied cities. What is the first piece of advice you would give to another outsider coming to live there?
Just let go of any expectations about how you think things should be, and be prepared to adjust. You can live as grandly or as simply as you want in Mumbai, but you can never escape the day to day frustrations that come from living in India. In Mumbai, we have world class bars and shopping malls, but a severe traffic problem, water shortage, and lack of space. The problems are different to the ones you might find elsewhere in India, but they’re still there. You just have to accept it for what it is. And don’t try and replicate the life you had elsewhere.
The phrase ‘the real India’ is one that foreigners tend to use, usually to make a distinction between how they used to perceive India and how they perceive it, or something about it, after going and spending time there. Of all the experiences you’ve had in India, which one, by your estimation, felt most like that so-called ‘real India’?
I actually see the “real India” more as the “dual India”. Everything about India is real, from a luxury hotel to a vendor selling vegetables from his wooden cart. However, an experience that I had that felt most like the so called “real India” was having to deal with corrupt customs officials at the customs office, when trying to retrieve 2 boxes of personal items that I had sent over. I don’t want to focus on something obviously so negative, but I’ve chosen this example from the point that corruption is everywhere in India, at all levels, and it affects the rich as well as the poor. There’s no escaping from it.
Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?
Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.
A country I’d like to visit: Brazil. A country I’d like to visit again: Spain.
Do you believe in God?
I believe that God is a name for the universal energy and consciousness that is present everywhere. All religions have the same aim, that is bringing people closer to the one entity labeled as “God”.
This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click the category tag in the ‘By Category’ section at the top right of this page.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it explicitly before, but I am part of the Indian outsourcing world. My job at Trivandrum’s Technopark involves proofreading medical letters, and I am the only foreigner in my company. While Kerala is a world away from Mumbai, I feel qualified to pass judgment on two aspects 0f NBC’s new situation comedy ‘Outsourced’:
(1) whether or not it is true to life (because I am essentially the show’s main character)
(2) whether or not it is funny (because of my ability to notice what makes me laugh)
To answer (1), let me compare a few situations in the show to how they might play out in my life.
In the first episode, Todd meets his staff by going around the office introducing himself to each of them. The assistant manager tags along quietly beside him. In my office the manager would do all the talking, describing both me and my new colleague for each other’s benefit without either of us really having to say anything. Inaccurate.
The staff are immediately revealed to be a collection of stereotypes: the petite and quiet girl, the ambitious and business-obsessed assistant manager, the attractive and assertive girl, the cool and flirtatious young guy and the overweight dude who won’t shut up. In my office, it takes literally years for some colleagues to reveal their character to you, and generally interactions are kept to business – to wit, they bring as little character to work as possible, saving it for after hours. If you’re lucky, you get to spend time with them after hours and get to know them better. Inaccurate.
Todd’s fellow foreigners in his Outsourcing Building are a dinki di Aussie chick and Diedrich Bader. I have never seen a dinki di Aussie chick anywhere near my Outsourcing Building, and I most definitely haven’t seen Diedrich Bader. Inaccurate.
In the second episode, the office break room is shown to be colourful and filled with a number of snacks and tea-and-coffee-making facilities, with laughter emanating from the mingling men and women on the staff. My break room has some chairs and tables, a big sink, one BRU tea/coffee machine, and a water cooler. The walls are white and bare. The staff generally sit segregated according to gender, and those that mingle with the opposite sex do so very quietly so as not to attract too much attention. They are also usually married couples. Inaccurate.
Todd cannot comprehend the famous Indian head-wobble, so Asha – the attractive and assertive girl – demonstrates it for him by taking his head in her hands and moving it slowly from side to side, all the while looking into his eyes and giggling. If any single one of my female colleagues did this to me, my head would explode right there in their hands – we have barely exchanged a single handshake in two whole years. Inaccurate.
Finally, Gupta unleashes a tirade against all of his fellow staff, pointing out everything that he hates about each of them. In my office, where dancing carefully – and with a smile – around the people you dislike is elevated to an art form, this would only be within the realms of possibility if someone were drunk. It might even become likely in such a case. Gupta, however, is not drunk. Inaccurate.
Verdict: Even allowing for the fact that I work in far-more-conservative Kerala, on point (1), Outsourced gets a FAIL.
Answering (2) is much simpler: did I laugh? Well, a majority of the jokes were infantile, such as the parade of ridiculous items sold by All American Novelties, Todd’s company. Stupid does not equal funny.
Others COULD have been funny, but were lazily thrown in rather than stretched to their capacity, like when Manmeet is saying goodbye to one of his phone girlfriends and manages to sell her a teddy bear that plays recordings. He asks her what he should record into it for her to listen to when she goes to sleep at night. I would have laughed hard if he’d sat there in silence for ten seconds, getting progressively more disgusted as he listened to her obviously filthy request; as it was, he quickly told her “I can’t make a cute little teddy bear say that”. This is spoonfeeding where it really wasn’t necessary – a lot of the best humour allows room for the audience to read something into it, and I wish the writers had realised this.
Most importantly, in each episode several jokes were downright offensive, and they WERE often stretched to their limits, making for even more excruciating cringes. For example, when Todd spots a COW outside the office WINDOW and then, after listening to a long SPEECH about HINDU BELIEFS, asks “So, what time is lunch?”. NOT COOL. Also, when Gupta goes on that afore-mentioned ‘I hate you all’ rant he comes to “Mr All-American”… and has absolutely nothing to say! What?! He’s perfect, while all of the Indians have negative characteristics? Between this and the constant stereotyping, I detect a hidden agenda!
Verdict: I understand that people have different beliefs on what is and isn’t funny, but in the eyes of this viewer, Outsourced is DOUBLY NOT FUNNY – once for failing to make me laugh, and once for pissing me off at the same time.
I guess all this indicates that the show is on the fast track to cancellation. However, as Peta Jinnath Andersen notes in her article at The NRI, the pilot pulled in an impressive number of viewers, so who knows? She and Amitha Knight, who are both Indians in the USA, have written well about it, so check out their pieces (both of which are of course much more insightful than mine).
As it stands, I will be tuning in for the third episode to see if it can elevate itself in any way. Even with the bar set so low, I’m not holding my breath.
Taking advantage of the extraordinary Indian Railways is a regular component of my life in Kerala. Being a hardworking Technopark salaryman I have to catch the train to and from work most days, which in and of itself is not all that remarkable; people do that all over the world, from Tokyo to London to Los Angeles. What makes my journey unusual, as I’ve mentioned before, is the fact that I’m the only regular who is a white man – the saip in their midst. How much I should interact is a constant dilemma as I try to balance the expectations of whoever it is I talk to, the many others watching, and indeed, the expectations I have of them.