“Welcome to Sweden”
Cast: Greg Poehler, Josephine Bornebusch, Lena Olin (Chocolat”), Claes Månsson, Patrick Duffy (“Dallas”), Illeana Douglas (“Goodfellas”)
Air-date, time: The pilot episode airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC
The premise: Bruce Evans (Poehler) and Emma Wiik (Bornebusch) are an adorable pair. He is an accountant to the stars and lives his life in New York with Emma,a kind woman from Sweden whom he loves and adores. When she takes a banking job in her native Stockholm after they’ve been dating for a year, she is thrilled that he agrees to move with her to begin a new life together.
With no job, friends or real idea about what he is getting himself into, Bruce is about to face the many unique challenges that living in a foreign country presents. Bruce’s biggest issue is how to win over Emma’s odd and very Swedish family, which includes her parents, Viveka (Olin) and Birger (Månsson), with whom they move in. Gustav (Christopher Wagelin) is Emma’s younger brother, a 28-year old slacker. Bengt (Per Svensson), Birger’s younger brother, loves American pop culture and seems to live his life through U.S. movies.
Besides starring in the show, Greg Poehler serves as executive producer of the fish-out-of-water series, which is based on events in his real life. Poehler moved to Sweden and married a Swedish woman 10 years ago.
Highs: When most people think of Sweden they probably conjure up images of meatballs, IKEA and a country completely populated with blondes. For many Americans it seems to be a wonderful place, so pointing out cultural differences between the U.S. and Sweden provides a surprising amount of humor. How Swedes handle immigration, their view on furniture, traffic rules, how they tell jokes and even their absence of small talk will give U.S. audiences a self-reflecting chuckle.
While cultural differences abound, there are also family struggles going on in “Welcome to Sweden.” Emma has an affable, easy-going father and hard to please mother. She has a brother who’s spoiled and has no clue what to do with his life. Bruce clearly loves Emma but her family tests him, so he has to step gingerly around the topic. For anyone who has ever experienced the growing pains of learning to be part of a new family, there’s a lot to relate to. “Welcome to Sweden” handles this family strife with a gentle hand; there are no villains here.
Lows: While an interesting premise, “Welcome to Sweden” leaves a lot of humor on the table. Greg Poehler (think of a soft spoken Greg Kinnear) is likeable, but lacks confidence and his co-stars dominate most scenes. The guest appearances are throwaways and unbelievable. Will Farrell, Amy Poehler (Greg Poehler’s sister), Gene Simmons and Aubrey Plaza all cameo as satirized versions of themselves but the pay off is never there. All four of them are obsessed with their former accountant? Come on.
The American loving Uncle Bengt is ripe for parody but is rarely used. And Bruce’s parents, played by Patrick Duffy and Illeana Douglas, would also make for some solid cultural clashes but they don’t arrive until episode six. Most troublesome are the subtitles. You’ll read lots of them (I actually wrote “lots of subtitles” in my show notes five times.) as a portion of the dialogue is spoken in Swedish. In fact, most of the best jokes in “Welcome to Sweden” are said in Swedish. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Grade: (C): This Swedish themed TV series is a lot like the country of Sweden – attractive and non-threatening. Unfortunately a TV show, especially a sitcom, needs more than that to be successful. “Welcome to Sweden” has the ingredients to be a really good comedy, but despite some laughs here and there it feels like a lost opportunity.