Monday, September 8, 2014

The Two Faces of Swedish/US Hybrid, Welcome to Sweden

Welcome to Sweden is a strange horse. One might even say the sitcom is a bit on the bipolar side. The show was originally made for Swedish television, by an American writer/actor, who wanted to tell the real life story of how he left New York to follow his girlfriend to her homeland of Sweden. After its success there, NBC decided to buy the show and air the ten episode first season here in the states. The only problem is that the show is half in Swedish and half in English, and therefore is subtitled on NBC. Yeah, just what American audiences like, reading their televised entertainment. Not to sound too snobbish or haughty or whatever, but when it comes to subtitles, the typical US TV or movie watcher isn't what one would call, um...let's say enthusiastic. Face it, that is the sad sad truth of it all. Therefore, Welcome to Sweden, and its bilingual ways may have a rather hard time finding an audience on NBC. Most Swedes speak English, so it is not a problem on Swedish television. The show aired as a Summer replacement series on the Peacock Network, and did about as well in the ratings as one would expect a little known, little advertised, semi-subtitled sitcom to do. Nonetheless, NBC being the place where quality programming can still find a friend, even without big ratings (think Parks and Rec, and at least for a time, Community), the network has given the show a second season, to air probably in early 2015, after first airing on TV4 in Sweden. Hooray for integrity in network broadcasting. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

As for the show itself, as I said before, it could be considered rather bipolar in its existence. Half Swedish, half American, starring both American and Swedish actors, and spoken in both languages, the show already has the whole two-faced thing going, before you even get to the style and storyline, which also can be seen as two-sided. Much of the comedy we find in these ten episodes is on the sardonic, sometimes satiric side of the so-called spectrum, but at the same time, we are handed a sentimental love story as well. Granted, these sentimental moments may get a bit drippy in their sentiment, but the aforementioned sardonic nature of the show, thankfully keeps us afloat. And all this is done by comic Greg Poehler. Oh, did I forget to mention that the show is the brainchild of Amy Poehler's baby brother? Yeah, perhaps such a connection did help in NBC's decision to pick up the show from TV4, but Poehler, Greg, not Amy, has done a good enough job with the show, to wipe away, at least part of the notion of nepotism. still though, let's be realistic, being Amy Poehler's baby brother could not have hurt any. And get this, guess who has guest starred on the show? Yup, one Miss Amy Poehler. Again, I do not mean to demean the show by saying it does not deserve praise in its own right - because it does.

Poehler, who will someday play Greg Kinnear's brother in a movie, is a talented writer, and once one gets past the drippy over-sentimentality of his love story (which granted, usually only rears its ugly head during each episodes final tag), it is a quite smartly written sitcom, indeed. The story follows Poehler's on screen doppelganger, Bruce Evans, as he quits his cushy gig as an accountant to the stars in New York, and follows his girlfriend Emma, played by Josephine Bornebusch (a regular on Sweden's version of Saturday Night Live), back to her Scandinavian homeland. Most of the comedy revolves around Bruce's inability to fit into Swedish life. This fish-out-of-water premise may get tiring after awhile, but so far, so good. And judging from how season one finishes, it looks as if the second season may be doing less of this, and possibly more on the comedy of relationships themselves. The show also features the Academy Award nominated Lena Olin as Emma's passive aggressive mother, and Swedish writer/director/actor, Claas Mansson, as her sometimes clueless papa. We also get Emma's slacker brother (Christopher Wagelin) and her American pop culture obsessed uncle (Per Svensson).

The most intriguing part of the show is the meta referencing and coinciding guest stars. Poehler's big sis has appeared in both the first episode and the season finale, playing an over-the-top version of herself. The show has also seen Gene Simmons as himself, Swedish-American actress Malin Akerman (the titular Trophy Wife from last season's unfairly canceled series of the same name), Patrick Duffy and Illeana Douglas as Bruce's visiting parents, Will Ferell as an ex-client (Ferrell too is married to a Swedish woman), and even some members of ABBA. The best guest gig though, belongs to Aubrey Plaza, playing a rather sociopathic version of herself, who stalks Bruce at the bequest of pal Poehler, who wants him back as her accountant. Plaza steals the show whenever she is on screen. Sure, Welcome to Sweden may not be quite up to the par of those other aforementioned NBC comedies Community and Parks & Rec, but the show still has a lot of laughs, and I am looking forward to season two coming, whenever that may be. Hopefully American audiences will pick up on it as well, even if they may have to "read" half of what is going on. As they say in Sweden, Hejda. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard of this and now am intrigued. I was wondering, from the beginning, if any ABBA member would be on this and yes they have except the Greta Garbo "I vant To Be left alone" Agnetha. Most people dislike sub titles. It's a shame since I think they need them for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger