Friday, September 05, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Welcome to Sweden, season 1 (2014) ***

TV-14, 10 21-min. episodes
Creator: Greg Poehler
Director: Carl Åstrand
Writers: Greg Poehler, Josephine Bornebusch, Niclas Carlsson, Peter Arrhenius, Jesper Harrie, Martin Soneby
Starring: Greg Poehler, Josephine Bornebusch, Lena Olin, Claes Månsson, Christopher Wagelin
Guest starring: Per Svensson, Amy Poehler, Basim Sabah Albasim, Will Ferrell, Aubrey Plaza, Madeleine Martin, Hanna Ahlström, Claudia Galli, Illeana Douglas, Patrick Duffy, Björn Ulvaeus, Björn Ranelid, Marques Ray, Malin Åkerman, Gustav Roth, Pam Murphy, Matt Oberg

When I was about 10, my family hosted an exchange student from Sweden. It was like having an alien coming to live with you. Well, it was for a ten-year-old. He was tall, devastatingly handsome. He played futball. He had no idea how to play football. He listened to strange music (Pink Floyd). He smelled funny (cologne). And, by the time he left some nine months later, he was a member of the family. He attended my wedding. He’s held an open invitation for any of us to visit him in Sweden. Like the fools we are, we’ve never made good on this. Perhaps now I will.

“Welcome to Sweden” is a new sitcom that is one of the more unusual things to be found on American television. It aired on Swedish television first, in the spring of this year, and was an unmitigated hit there. Here in the U.S. it has been relegated to the throwaway summer slots. But, I applaud NBC for having the guts to show it to American audiences. It was a little difficult to watch because NBC shuffled it around their late summer schedule like they were playing the cup game, but when I caught it, it always made me smile.

Just asking American audiences to watch a sitcom on a major network that requires the reading of subtitles is an audacious prospect. To take them to a foreign land and ask them to find amusement in the differences between Americans and others is rather original for a sitcom. Now, the other way around, sure we’ve done that before. But, to have the American as the fish out of water, well…. That’s more interesting.

The show is about an American accountant who quits everything to move to Sweden with his Swedish girlfriend. It’s based on creator Greg Poehler’s real experiences moving to Sweden with his Swedish girlfriend. Poehler was a New York City lawyer when he moved to Sweden. He found success as a stand-up comic in Sweden and created this series for TV4.

It isn’t the funniest show ever created, but Poehler gets his sister Amy and several of her high profile Hollywood friends to add punch to the series. Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and her “Parks and Recreation” co-star Aubrey Plaza, and Hollywood Swede Malin Akerman all show up in season 1. Even some Swedish superstars show up for some cameos. The Swedes are the highlight of the show, but Poehler and his co-star Josephine Bornebusch make good straight players to the rest of the zaniness. Lena Olin, known in America for her femme fatale roles, takes a surprising comedic turn as Bornebusch’s mother.

The show has already been renewed for a second season, which might surprise some American number pushers, but that’s because it’s actually a Swedish production, where it was a hit. I imagine its American numbers wouldn’t have warranted more than a few episodes aired. I’m hoping NBC will figure no one will be watching in the summer months anyway and air season 2 next summer. I’ll watch it again.

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