July 20, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Welcome To Sweden”



WELCOME TO SWEDEN is a comedy so placid that one might need to hold up a mirror to its face to see if its breath can fog the glass, and NBC seems to be trying to keep its second season as secret as possible by shoving it into the Sunday 8PM hour, airing episodes 2 at a time to fill a few weeks before preseason football begins.  It seems fair to assume that the reason the frequently subtitled sitcom is on American air at all is for the sake of NBC’s relationship with Amy Poehler, whose Executive Producer credit is the only one to appear in the opening credit sequence, and whose brother Greg Poehler is the creator/star of the semi-autobiographical series.  (The foreign-financed show probably also carries a very low network license fee.)

Greg Poehler, whose TV alter ego is named Bruce Evans, moved to Sweden to be with his girlfriend (now wife), and his gentle fish-out-of-water experiences are the substance of the series.  The first episode of the season premiere (written by Poehler and directed by Ulf Kvensler) had him struggling to propose to Emma (Josephine Bornebusch), despite the warnings of in-laws-to-be Viveka (Lena Olin) and Birger (Claes Mansson) that Emma cared nothing for marriage, and such Swedish oddities as the custom of giving engagement rings with small diamonds rather than large ones.  Getting little from Emma’s parents, Bruce made the mistake of taking the advice of her slacker brother Gustav (Christopher Wagelin, playing a role that proves some cliches transcend national borders) and proposing “big,” with a flash mob that of course went disastrously bad when Emma thought she was being attacked.  The show’s usual tone was demonstrated when Emma casually proposed to Bruce while they were brushing their teeth, anticlimax being the order of Welcome to Sweden‘s day.  The slightly more amusing B story had Emma becoming a Stockholm meme when the new executive at her bank (guest star Neve Campbell) insisted on posting a staff photo to social media that included Emma looking ostentatiously bored.

One of the running gags of the series is that Bruce can’t find meaningful employment in Sweden, due in part to his inability to learn Swedish, and the night’s second episode (written and directed by Kvensler) had him trying to become a local go-to guy for celebrity American tourists, in this case Jason Priestley as a version of himself (Amy Poehler also recurs as a bizarro version of Amy Poehler).  “Priestley” came to Sweden obsessed with making a connection with the films of Ingmar Bergman, as to which Bruce was ignorant to an extent that was clearly meant to be far funnier than it was, and to impress Priestley, Bruce ended up having Emma’s uncle Bengt (Per Svensson) pretend to be Bergman’s assistant director on Fanny and Alexander.  (There was a ready-made in-joke available because in real life Lena Olin starred for Bergman in several films and stage productions, but her character played no part in the storyline.)  Once again Emma had the B plot, dueling with a colleague who was trying to get credit for her work, but not to worry, because her boss knew all along that the effort was hers and was happy to reward her for it.

Welcome to Sweden features an interesting locale, and it’s unfailingly good natured, but overall it’s rarely more than mildly pleasant.  For all its local color, the lead characterizations of bumbling hero, practical girlfriend, and overbearing in-laws are quite familiar, and very little that happens is surprising or inspired.  It’s merely a modest piece of work with a good Rolodex, but considering that NBC’s sister studio Universal Pictures has Amy Poehler’s next movie Sisters opening for Christmas, it may be accomplishing on a corporate level just what it’s intended to do.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."