Is Welcome To Sweden Worth The Trip?
Greg Poehler turned his romantic movie into a sitcom. A 'Modern Love' column would've sufficed.
What Is This Thing?
Celebrity accountant Bruce quits his New York City job and moves to Sweden to be with his beautiful girlfriend, Emma. He's completely clueless when it comes to her native language and culture, and weathers his fair share of "fish out of water" awkwardness. Emma's parents, Birger and Viveka, aren't too thrilled with their relationship, making Bruce's transition even trickier. Now he has to create a new life for himself, while keeping his relationship afloat.
When Is It On?
Thursdays at 9 on NBC.
Why Was It Made Now?
NBC is pairing this with another new summer series, legal comedy Working The Engels, and sandwiching them between Hollywood Game Night and Last Comic Standing. Welcome is already a proven hit in Sweden -- it's been renewed for a second season there -- so the network is surely hoping the show will also translate in the U.S.
What's Its Pedigree?
The show's premise is largely autobiographical, based on the real-life globetrotting romance of Greg Poehler (who's a former lawyer, not an accountant). Greg's the younger brother of NBC star Amy, who shares an executive producer credit with him, and has already had a triumph as a producer this year with Broad City.
Though the cast is largely Swedish, and the filming is done almost exclusively abroad, Americans may already recognize co-star Lena Olin (Alias, '00 hit film Chocolat), who plays Emma's mother. That familiarity should help take the edge off of any initial culture shock. Likewise, cameos by the likes of Will Ferrell, Illeana Douglas, and Malin Akerman ease viewers into this distinctly foreign-seeming show.
The show feels out of place in an NBC comedy line-up. It's the kind of quaint comedy of manners that gets imported into the States and plopped onto PBS, à la Keeping Up Appearances, or As Time Goes By. There's plinky, sentimental music in the background. The pace is slow. Each scene is flooded with bright (presumably) natural light -- from the parents' rustic, mumsy country cottage to Emma's Scandinavian modern all-white flat. This effect is blinding, especially compared to NBC's typical dimly lit living room/office space/bar studio sets.
Also, there's reading. So much reading. Emma's parents and compatriots primarily converse with her in Swedish, requiring audiences to read subtitles in order to get in on the joke. Who has the attention span for all that? If you look away for a few seconds to check your texts, refresh your feed, or dip your chip, you'll miss the punchlines entirely (such as they are). Asking Americans to watch a show that they actually have to "watch"? That's a hard sell.
Setting and language barriers aside, the rest of the elements fit quite neatly with your standard sitcom conventions. There's Emma's "strong, silent type" father who's always sternly shaking his head; her judgmental, disapproving mother, who's quick with the passive-aggressive barbs; and Emma's slacker brother, who's still crashing in his old boyhood bunkbed. Bruce is a likable, mildly insecure Greg Kinnear type (they're trans-generational doppelgangers, btw), and in typical sitcom tradition, his girlfriend is out of his league in most every way. Bruce doesn't get Emma's family's quirks and traditions, the couple repeatedly gets busted while on the verge of sexy times, and he makes one bungling mistake after another. Think of it as Meet The Fökers.
Celebrity cameos may be this sitcom's saving grace. Without them, dullness sets in. The pilot's shining moment is Amy Poehler's brief scene, wherein she plays "herself" as a totally non-Knope-y egotistical A-lister. Likewise, Will Ferrell is the sole comic relief in the second episode, and even he gives a relatively subdued performance. (Is Sweden actually Bizarro World?) Aubrey Plaza brings her one-trick eyeball-rolling shtick to a recurring role, and the promise of an upcoming Amy/Aubrey story arc is a welcome lifeline. Otherwise, all you get is a lot of "Swedes do things like this, but, oh boy, Americans do things like this!"
For Bad-Ass Week we suggest:
How to make Welcome To Sweden more bad-ass!
This show -- with its sun-dappled lake shots, cinnamon rolls (they call 'em "bullar"), and chuckle-worthy social faux pas -- is largely bad-ass-deficient. In order to crank up the BAF (Bad-Ass Factor), why not throw in a walk-on by none other than Peter "Karl Hungus" Stormare? The native Swede has acted alongside Olin in the past and he brings the intensity every time he's onscreen. Two words: wood chipper. Stormare could play Emma's former flame -- a complete dating 180 from goofy Bruce. His extreme personality throws Bruce off his game, leaving him feeling threatened and worried that Emma will leave him in the dust. Bonus points if they casually toss the word "nihilist" into a scene.