Friday, November 12, 2010

Looking at Outsourced and Community this week

Thoughts on "Outsourced" after this past week's episode "Home for the Diwalidays":

After just seven or eight episodes, the show has smoothed out the rough edges on its more two-dimensional characters. While these characters are often criticized for being stereotypical and culturally crude, from a functional episode, I think everyone in the ensemble brings something to the table and that’s rare.

For example, look at Madhuri. She fits into all sorts of conventions of a girl with little to no confidence: she’s shy, she’s less direct with Todd than Asha, she was the last to make an upsell, etc. We might even read into her character, some implicit feminist cultural about the nature of caste oppression and its effect on women in India, but the critical consensus is that the show is written by cultural boobs so those readings tend to get dismissed. As I’ve mentioned before, the show’s obstacles are a double-edged sword because if the show would look any more realistically than it already is at an oppressed woman like Madhuri, it would cease to be a comedy.

Even if we cut out the cultural aspects and judge Madhuri as a staple sitcom character, I’m impressed at her growth. Along with Gupta, she has been one of the slowest characters to grow on me, but she’s been used well the past few weeks. There was a good self-referencing gag a couple of episodes ago where she went to a Halloween party dressed as a lamp shade and her presence wasn’t noticed by the other characters or the audience either. This week, Madhuri showed some cunning by massively overcharging Rajiv for a sari. It was a direction consistent with what we’ve seen from her so far, it was a direction forward for her character, and it worked within where the episode was heading. All of these things deserve recognition.

What's also admirable is that the one character who's a little less than three-dimensional, Tanya, is used sparingly. She's regularly cut out entirely of episodes and only is used when she's important to the plot. Speaking of weeks in which Tanya is important to the plot, this week's episode answered a question that was previously irking me: Why haven’t Tanya and Todd gotten together already? She’s so ridiculously forward with him and the show dallied a couple episodes too long in not answering why he wouldn’t have responded to her. It wasn’t just a matter of Todd’s hang-up with Asha but he seemed a little unaware that this woman whom he clearly finds attractive was right there in front of him holding up a large sign that said “Please boink me.” Well, no worries. In any case, Todd and Tanya made up for all the sex they weren’t having in the last couple episodes here, so everything was squared away there.

On another note, I also am loving Rajiv’s character and his passive-aggressiveness last night. The gag where he caught Todd on camera but accidentally opened himself up to blackmail ran just a little long but it was pretty funny nonetheless.

Community: "Cooperative Calligraphy"

In contrast, Community is a show in its second season. The show felt a little bit awkward in its pilot but viewers have gradually warmed up to it. It's now being counted as a favorite by many viewers I've heard from. The strength of the ensemble has been cited as one of the show's major strong points.

I can't help but watching "Community" this season and just wondering what the hell these these guys are thinking during some of the show's stranger episodes. Last week's episode had a very trippy A-plot that seemed a little incongruous with a B-plot that was a bit melodramatic (Abed becomes a "Mean Girl"). At the same time, I thought "Messainic Myths and Ancient Peoples" was an amazing episode and it did push the envelope a lot, so being a little more outlandish has gotten the show places. This week, however, the show just got too rediculous for me.

I mean, let's be honest: They based an entire episode around Annie losing a pen.

I lose pens all the time. I don't even know where the hell my pens come from. If I see a pen lying around somewhere, I usually take it, it's the most inconsequential thing in the world. Some people might call that relatable, but this episode is asking is to believe that seven grown adults would strip themselves down and tear apart a room for a pen?

A lot of dramatic situations are based around people forced into confined spaces. I believe this is called the "Ship of Fools" theory in film/literature analysis which says when characters of different social classes are put together in a confined space it becomes a microcosm of society. This episode was a pretty lackadaisical attempt to create that effect. Any sane person would have just walked out of the room. Annie's craziness was, in fact, something they took a stand against in the penultimate episode of last season.

Some people might say it wasn't really about the pen but that the pen was just a launching pad to larger issues within the group. That doesn't take away the fact that the episode is already asking us to make a big enough leap in logic to accept that the pen could act as a launching pad in the first place.

How difficult would it have been to replace pen with something of value like wallet, credit card, wrist watch, or a locket?

My point, here is that "Community" is getting off pretty easily for its stumbling while the new sitcom on the block has to fight tooth and nail for any semblance of respectability.

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