July 11, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Welcome to Sweden”


WELCOME TO SWEDEN:  Thursday 9PM on NBC – Potential DVR Alert

WELCOME TO SWEDEN has one of the more unusual provenances of any show on a US broadcast network.  It was commissioned by Swedish television, where it aired last spring–and which explains its heavy use of subtitled Swedish dialogue.  Although it includes some familiar sitcom features like eccentric relative characters, it has a calm, unruffled pace that makes it feel much more like cable than a network comedy.  Its presence on NBC at all is presumably explained by the fact that its creator/star is Greg Poehler, brother of Amy (she’s one of the Executive Producers, and has a cameo in the pilot); the fact that NBC is probably paying a pittance for it compared to a US-produced project won’t have hurt either.

The set-up is Greg Poehler’s autobiographical story:  he did leave his successful job in NY (as a lawyer; his fictional alter ego Bruce Evans is an accountant) to follow his Swedish girlfriend, and later wife, back to her homeland.  In the pilot, written by Poehler, Josephine Bornebusch (who plays Bruce’s girlfriend Emma) and Niclas Carlsson, and directed by Carl Astrand, Bruce makes his journey to Northern Europe, and is immediately at sea among the niceties of the foreign lifestyle–and that includes literally at sea, as Emma’s father ferries them across from the mainland (even though it’s easy enough to get to the island by car), a problem since Bruce gets sick on boats.  Before long, he’s throwing down beers and shots (including in the family sauna), suffering from sleep deprivation and eternal northern sunshine, and getting to know the family.  That would be Emma’s mother Viveka (Lena Olin), a therapist fixated on what she takes to be Bruce’s short stature (we would say he’s of normal height); her father Birger (Claes Mansson), who is soft-spoken and quite tall; her blobby brother Gustaf (Christopher Wagelin); and her uncle Bengt (Per Svensson), who’s obsessed with all things American.

If this were set in some distant island community off the coast of the US, it might seem fairly routine (Emma’s uncle does bad imitations of DeNiro in Taxi Driver and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco).  Staged with an unusually gentle style, though, that doesn’t push toward punchlines, and with its picturesque exteriors and its dialogue subtitled much of the time, it has a distinctively pleasant indie movie feel.  It remains to be seen whether Bruce’s wide-eyed, easygoing presence will come to seem bland over time, or whether there’s more to the Swedish characters than their immediate idiosyncracies.  From NBC’s point of view, there’s certainly a big question as to whether Welcome to Sweden will have a place on a network schedule, especially wedged in between Hollywood Game Night and Playing the Engels.  Still, Sweden is a genuinely unusual piece of network comedy, and at least at the outset, it seems like it might be a refreshing change of pace.

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."