TV is littered with the corpses of beloved shows with lousy ratings. You can't mention Terriers around one of its 10 viewers without hearing the president of FX is worse than Robo-Hitler. There are people ready to expose their children to toxic chemicals if the Make-A-Wish Foundation ever has enough money to finance an Arrested Development movie. Audiences are fiercely protective because they know that if four TV executives are stranded on an island with a crate of food and a can opener, three will starve to death and the fourth will choke on the can opener.
But what if programming did something smart? Say they aired a sitcom about a charming jerk with no career options forced to work alongside people he looked down on? You'd have Community, a show so good it faces more cancellations than teenage pregnancy. Yet NBC protects it for benevolent, unknown reasons.
Every yin has its yang, and there's no bigger yang than Outsourced. Same premise, one difference: The show doesn't seem to know that its protagonist desperately needs a good punching in the face. NBC once again did the right thing and deleted the show despite superior ratings. Why? That's the question we're going to sift through Outsourced's guts to answer.
Each network has sitcoms it should be ashamed of. CBS has Big Bang Theory. FOX has FOX. ABC probably has something, but no one ever returns to tell the tale. Let's make CBS the designated hitter for ABC with Two & a Half Men, a show originally developed to enrage rodeo bulls. People who wait an hour for a table at Olive Garden on Friday nights really enjoy it, so it must fill some sort of void. Similarly, Big Bang Theory is just every other sitcom in nerd-drag, meaning the punchlines are "Sector 2814!" It seduces a lot of geeks by acknowledging but openly loathing them, just like their high school crush.
When NBC commissioned Outsourced for what was previously a lovely Thursday evening, the idea had potential: an American manages an Indian call center in order to make that country hate us. The fish out of water is a time-tested premise, hailing back to 1978's Fish Out of Water, a show where host Dick Cavett placed fish on a hot stretch of highway and watched their agonized death throes. But Cavett's cruel laugh was infectious!
Disco made a lot of things look like better ideas than they were.
Todd, the manager in Outsourced, is homesick, and his employees don't want to sell farting robotic footballs. The very premise suggests that hatred for the confines of our existence can bring people together. At least, that's how the show was pitched to the focus group shackled in NBC's basement.
The problem with focus group testing is determining what's good and what's just Stockholm Syndrome.
Unfortunately, Outsourced doesn't live up to its potential. Exactly why a sitcom would hate laughter as much as Outsourced would remain a mystery, but they managed to make one brilliant decision, casting Diedrich Bader. Bader doesn't play entertainingly uncomfortable characters so much as skin them and wear them to your baby shower uninvited. If a nuclear holocaust ever befalls humanity, the one advantage will be zany behavior from Diedrich Bader.
Also, he's Batman.
To find out how far short of funny Outsourced falls, all we have to do is compare the amount of humor Bader adds with the amount of choking death still piled atop the scene and ask, "How many Diedrich Baders would it take to make this funny?"
To this end, I watched five episodes of Outsourced, which is well above recommended exposure levels. I don't ask for any kind of acclaim ... just remember me as an incomparable hero with a prehensile penis. Also, I can fly.
He fares better underneath The Sheen Threshold.
When meeting his employees, Todd roundly insults them so they understand America won't tolerate any foreign nonsense just because it's their country.
The first of many instances where the show induces a moronic coma on a character.
Detecting comedy on Outsourced was harder than a nipple at a clamp convention. The Badergraph spiked sympathetically when a character walked off the set in disgust, but dipped even lower when it realized the funniest part of the show just left. "Be-de-beep! Why was self-unit built without tear ducts?" it queried.
Sikh of it all.
Badergraph pinpointed the show's first flaw: Todd is written with the dynamic personality of water on a hillside. The show is at its best when it's calling him a schmuck. Since Bader plays a foil designed to make Todd look good, each additional Bader unit artificially inflates the facade that Todd is a stand-up guy.
Manmeet is too busy flirting with customers to pollute the world with Spencer Gifts merchandise. If you or I wrote this show, that would make him the hero, but Outsourced frowns on him despite saluting Todd for not doing his job of firing Manmeet.
It's kind of a one-sided friendship.
Immediately, Badergraph warned me, "This number might be off. Self-unit has influctuated alcohol to survive this show."
A man phone-whoring to make sales is funny, but too interesting for Outsourced, which zoomed in on Todd's need to be a nice guy instead. This requires either 16 more Baders at standard temperature and pressure, or just one firing a gun.
Unfortunately, that happened in an even direr scene.
The central character is irrelevant to the real story. I ran a hypothetical scenario where the show acknowledges Todd is a directionless jerk. This chortlevated the guffawery 17 percent on the Ha-axis. Moreover, we saw emotional redemption gains double after the scene where Manmeet tried to strangle Todd with his own shoelaces.
In a sad triumph for the non-American character, he retains his $7.85-a-day gig peddling musical rubber phalluses. If your dreams cap out that low, quit. You'll have another culturally disposable career in five minutes, like dung collector or singer for As I Lay Dying.
Two Americans, two Indians and a sex-crazed Australian walk into a bar but there's no punchline. Outsourced does for comedy what David Hinckley did for the presidency. There have been gang rumbles more respectful of our shared humanity than this show.
Violence is one way to solve a problem like Maria, but it's not recommended.
As the show began exploring cultural divides, the Badergraph beeped, "Query -- is subject: Outsourced racist?"
"That's not important," I shrugged. "It's sort of like progress when a group gets its own terrible sitcom full of broad stereotypes."
Badergraph booped a low, sad whistle and the lights flickered in the room. "Then I have died before computing this thing you call life."
Badergraph was responding better to the female characters than the male. One had dignity, another was Australian and therefore incapable of dignity and the third was funny in a deer-in-headlights fashion.
Dared by Manmeet to love Asha, Todd emptied the contents of his personality on the innocent employee. This distressed Badergraph into abrupt shutdown amid the smell of burning metal. The final image, burned onto its screen, was a note asking me to forgive it for taking the coward's way out.
On this episode of LOL Indians! Todd touches his employees inappropriately, while the show does the same to our sense of humor. Sexual harassment hilarity ensues with the dexterity of a half-price children's party magician.
All that's missing is a rapping elderly white woman.
I was unable to turn Badergraph back on initially. But when it saw this red-hot, sexy sexual sexisode, something strange happened. It ... it rebooted itself.
"Self-unit has categorized all that is unfunny in the universe!" it proclaimed. "What is left must be humor. And perhaps ... love?"
Sparks spewed from Badergraph's housing as it tootled, "I have become self-aware!" which is more than Outsourced could say.
By now, I'd learned Outsourced's favorite joke was skittish Indians overreacting, like when Manmeet saw someone eating ribs:
Someone needs to explain to Outsourced's creators that WACKY:FUNNY::MARGARINE:BUTTER.
This show makes Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom look like a tourism ad.
Todd has decided to be in love with Asha, so his coworkers put all the effort in for him. Any doof can make his own sacrifices, but women like to know they'll be taken care of, so a real catch has an army of selfless servants he can fling aside. Madhuri gives up her dream ticket so Todd can take her place and sexually harass Asha someplace besides work.
They showed this from five slow-mo angles until all the joy was gone.
At the conclusion of this episode, I was curious what would happen next, but Badergraph refused to go on. "No amount of Bader can help this show," it sighed. "I've already infiltrated NBC's email server. I put a kill-order in from head of programming's address. Outsourced won't hurt us anymore."
It's OK if 80 percent of anything is crap. Nothing would get done if all art was too good to miss. But if you're going to relentlessly point out cultural differences, you might try having something to say about them. That is, something other than "This food makes me poop!" Because for all our differences, there are two truths that bind all humanity and sentient computers: Indian food is delicious, and Outsourced must be destroyed.
Brendan McGinley writes a lot. Most of it is crap, though.
And see how the networks keep you watching in 5 Cheap Tricks TV Shows Use To Keep You Watching. Or learn about The 13 Most Ridiculous TV Shows to Ever Get Green-Lit.