Stay Tuned: ‘Welcome to Sweden,’ some reading required

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

By Melissa Crawley

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“Welcome to Sweden,” the new comedy on NBC, is about New York City accountant, Bruce Evans (Greg Poehler), who gives up everything and moves to Stockholm to be with his girlfriend, Emma Wiik (Josephine Bornebusch). It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, and the jokes will feel familiar to anyone who has lived as an expatriate. What’s different however, is that much of the show is shot on location and the Swedish actors often speak their native language. In other words, you have to read a few subtitles. It’s a risk that might prove to be a deal breaker for many viewers. But if you’re willing to do some reading with your watching, “Welcome to Sweden” is a funny look at what happens when someone takes a leap of faith for love.

The central idea (based on real events from Poehler’s life) focuses on what happens when: “I would do anything to be with this person” turns from a passionate declaration to a challenging reality. Bruce doesn’t speak the language, has no friends and no job. He meets Emma’s family for the first time when his plane lands. Emma, who asks Bruce to move with her because she got a prestigious banking job, feels the pressure of changing someone’s life. Will he be able to adapt? Or end up resenting her? These questions feel authentic and ground the show’s humor.

Emma’s parents Viveka (Lena Olin), a therapist and Birger (Claes Mansson), a retired sea captain, who Emma wishes weren’t “so Swedish” are Bruce’s first introduction to his adopted homeland. Viveka wonders why Bruce is so average both in height and otherwise while Birger’s limited English skills keep him a mystery. Olin tosses off Viveka’s sarcasm with a charming slyness. In one scene, she casually tells Emma to move the plates they are putting away after dinner to a low shelf in the cabinet so Bruce can reach them. Rounding out the Swedes are Emma’s brother Gustav (Christopher Wagelin), a 28 year-old slacker who still lives at home and her uncle Bengt (Per Svensson), whose knowledge and love of American culture comes from watching Hollywood films. Their lines, as you might expect from their character descriptions, tread familiar territory.

The humor in “Welcome to Sweden,” like Viveka’s line about the dishes, lands softly. This isn’t a show that goes for big belly laughs. Many of the jokes are based on feeling awkward because that’s often what happens when people from different cultures come together. So far, the show has avoided going for too many cheap laughs from cliché differences. (There’s only one scene in a sauna). It also does a good job of making you care about Bruce so that you laugh along with his experiences.

The show has taken advantage of Poehler’s comedic connections, his real life sister Amy (“Parks and Recreation”) is executive producer and guest stars as herself. But when Will Ferrell, Aubrey Plaza (Amy’s co-star on “Parks”) and Gene Simmons appear as themselves, it starts to feel indulgent. The show needs more time to find its groove, but it’s solid enough to stand on its own without the added star power.

“Welcome to Sweden” is on Thursdays at 9 p.m. EDT on NBC.

Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.