Once you get past the awkward recessionary premise — outsourcing and layoffs? Hilarious! — “Outsourced” is a fairly standard, occasionally sweet NBC comedy, joining an NBC Thursday lineup likely to be more ratings-challenged than usual. Dealing with a group of call-center misfits in India and the American expatriate assigned to lead them, it’s a standard fish-out-of-water tale, one that owes more of a debt to the popularity of “Slumdog Millionaire” than seeking to transform present-day discomfort into comedy. All told, it’s a logical companion to “The Office,” giving “Outsourced” an outside shot at survival.
Casting said fish onto land is dispensed with in rather ham-handed fashion, as young Todd (Ben Rappaport) shows up at work to discover everyone has been laid off. He’s the exception, but if he wants to keep his job with a company ironically called Mid American Novelties — and pay off those student loans — it’s off to India.
Once there, the usual new-boss burdens are multiplied. Not only does former office head (Rizwan Manji) resent him, but he’s inherited the castaways of the call-center game, from a painfully shy woman whose voice is barely audible (Anisha Nagarajan) — poorly suiting her to this line of work — to employees who keep giving away their location by saying things like, “?’K,’ as in Krishna.'”
Beyond the obvious cultural gap, Todd is a young guy, understandably wowed by an Australian expatriate, Tonya (Pippa Black), while also seeming to catch the eye of his most beguiling employee, Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood). Meanwhile, he commiserates with a fellow American, Charlie (Diedrich Bader, always a fine choice when you’re shopping for a lovable oaf).
Credited to writers John Jeffcoat and George Wing (responsible for the 2006 movie on which the show is based) and run by “The Drew Carey Show’s” Robert Borden, the pilot manages to squeeze in a good deal of business in a relatively short amount of time, establishing a potentially fertile assortment of characters.
Fortunately, Rappaport is a fairly effective Everyman, and the wince-inducing aspects of the premise quickly fade into standard workplace comedy deriving a twist from its location — not much different, really, from “Green Acres,” though with an international “we’re more alike than different” undercurrent, and a different approach to livestock. (The show exhausts the inevitable cow joke right off the bat.)
Ultimately, the question boils down to whether the producers can get enough mileage out of this setting and cast — including the vague outlines of a love triangle they’ve drafted — without repeatedly resorting to obvious “Ack! A hamburger!”-type lines.
Then again, the pilot is pretty good, and if the writers start to run out of jokes and plots part way through the season, they can always send out for them.