“Cute” isn’t always a flattering term in TV circles, but it happily applies to “Welcome to Sweden,” a classic fish-out-of-water concept created by and starring Greg Poehler, whose better-known sister Amy joins him as a producer. Despite rifling through all the usual and uncomfortable moments, the show has an understated charm and amusing characters, including a still-ravishing Lena Olin as the hilariously disapproving mother of the central character’s girlfriend. Summer might be the time to try this out, but with any kind of success, NBC could have an appealing utility player for next season.
Poehler’s Bruce is a successful money manager (his celebrity clients include, conveniently, a self-absorbed Amy Poehler, as well as other stars, like Gene Simmons in a later episode) who chucks it all to follow his girlfriend, Emma (Josephine Bornebusch), home to her native Sweden. Obviously, he hasn’t worked out all the angles, inasmuch as he arrives with no job (or prospects of one) or knowledge of the language, much to the irritation of his sort-of in-laws.
Said in-laws include not only Olin as the mom, a therapist, but Claes Mansson as her towering, taciturn husband, who joins his wife in talking about Bruce right in front of him. Then there’s Emma’s layabout brother (Christopher Wagelin) and her uncle (Per Svensson), who owns a videostore and loves quoting American movies. (He greets Bruce with a boisterous “Yippee ki-yay” from “Die Hard.”)
Culled from Poehler’s own experience (he co-wrote the show with Bornebusch and Niclas Carlsson), the situations are pretty standard — including the couple having a hard time finding a free moment to be intimate while initially staying with her parents — but they progress in semi-serialized fashion, with Bruce struggling to fit in, gradually trying to find his place in this strange new (well really, old) world.
As in any theatrical romantic comedy, the relationship will be tested, and to that extent “Welcome to Sweden” plays like an extended little movie, with Patrick Duffy and Illeana Douglas later coming for a visit as Bruce’s parents.
TV has always loved these kind of concepts (think “Northern Exposure”), but the familiar mishaps — like the awkward silence between Bruce and Emma’s dad — are enhanced by the language difficulties and European setting, which doesn’t appear on American TV often enough without a “Masterpiece” label. And while Poehler’s wide-eyed exasperation probably renders him the weakest link, there’s enough high-class support around him that he’s more than adequate to meet the role’s modest demands.
Extensively subtitled (loyal viewers might speak Swedish better than Bruce does before it’s over), “Welcome to Sweden” will no doubt test assumptions about just how receptive U.S. audiences are to such indie-style fare in a broadcast setting. At the very least, though, it’s the one genuinely recommendable show to reach our shores amid an NBC wave of summer flotsam.
And to that, much like the linguistically challenged Bruce, about the only thing I can say is “Skol!”