In Sweden: Aired starting in March on TV4 in Sweden
In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC
International co-productions are the future. Television is just getting so pricey and risky to make and the margins are getting so thin for most shows that pretty much anything you care to think of of any import is going to have foreign money in it somewhere.
There are right ways and wrong ways to do a co-production, though. Taxi Brooklyn is the wrong way. The wrong way. If you try to make a TV show like Taxi Brooklyn or in the same way as Taxi Brooklyn, you are doing it the wrong way.
You might ask if there is a right way, though. Certainly, taking the foreign money and making the show you always intended to is a right way. But another right way is for both parties to be properly involved, equally skilled and have equal input.
Welcome To Sweden isn’t quite the right way, but it’s close. It sees an American celebrity accountant move from New York to Sweden to be with his girlfriend, where he has to learn about and adapt to Swedish ways. Cue the stereotypes?
Not quite. The show was created by Greg Poehler and Swedish writer/actress Josephine Bornebusch, who also star in it and produce it. It’s based on Poehler’s experiences of being an American living in Sweden for the past seven years. It has both Swedish and American writers, and is half in Swedish, half in English. It’s filmed in Sweden and first aired on Sweden’s TV4. It features a host of cameos from famous Americans, usually but not always playing themselves, including Patrick Duffy, Gene Simmons, Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation, and Will Ferrell (who’s married to a Swede and can speak Swedish). It also includes cameos from famous Swedes, including Malin Åkerman, Lena Olin, author Björn Ranelid and Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus.
So there’s a lot more nuance to the show and it’s even quite funny, which is a bonus. It’s international co-production done right. Almost.
Bruce Evans (Greg Poehler) and Emma Wiik (Josephine Bornebusch, Swedish hit drama “Solsidan”) seem to be the perfect couple. He is a successful money manager to the stars, living his life in New York with Emma, the sweet woman from Sweden whom he loves and adores. A rare combination of intelligent, funny, kind and beautiful, Emma believes she has finally found her true soul mate. So when she makes the life-changing decision to move back to her native Stockholm to accept a prestigious banking job after being with Bruce for a year, she is surprised and thrilled that he agrees to move with her to begin a new life together.
Moving halfway around the world with a new love is a huge step. With no job, friends or real clue about what he is getting himself into, Bruce is quick to face the many unique challenges and culture clashes that living in a foreign land presents. The most notable one is how to win over Emma’s strange and very Swedish family, starting with her parents, Viveka (Lena Olin, “Chocolat”) and Birger (Claes Månsson), whom they move in with. Viveka, who is a therapist, dearly loves her family but has difficulty showing it, especially to Emma, and much to Bruce’s dismay, she harbors a dislike for him from day one. Birger, a retired sea captain, is a typical Swede – tall, kind and silent. Since his spoken English isn’t very sharp, it only adds to the communication barriers.
Emma’s younger brother, Gustav (Christopher Wagelin), is a 28-year old mega-slacker who, for some reason, can do no wrong in his mother’s eyes. Bengt (Per Svensson), Birger’s younger brother, is an American-adoring rockabilly type who seems to live his life through Hollywood movies.
As for Bruce’s family, his dad, Wayne (Patrick Duffy, “Dallas”), is conservative by nature and resides in a small Midwestern town. Like Wayne, Bruce’s adoring mother, Nancy (Illeana Douglas, “Grace of My Heart”), wants nothing but the best for her son, but has no understanding whatsoever of his decision to leave his happy life in New York.
Amy Poehler, Aubrey Plaza, Will Ferrell and Gene Simmons make guest appearances as themselves in this offbeat single-camera comedy predominately shot on location in Stockholm.
“Welcome to Sweden” is based on events in the life of Greg Poehler, who serves as executive producer along with Amy Poehler, Pontus Edgren, Carrie Stein and Frederik Arefalk. It is a co-production of eOne, TV4, FLX and Syskon.
Is it any good?
It’s pretty good and it’s funny – it’s just not hugely funny.
This is gentle comedy, essentially. You have the standard romcom tropes of the two lovers having different memories of how they first met, problems with immigration, cultural misunderstandings and more. You have famous people playing versions of themselves. You have Swedish cultural stereotypes aplenty, right down to naked saunas, everyone in Stockholm having their own house on another island, and Swedes who love American movies. You have the parents who aren’t sure of their daughter’s choice of boyfriend. You’ll have seen a lot of this before.
But the details help the show to exceed these broader brush strokes – these are stereotypes informed by knowledge, which is the big difference. This does actually feel like someone exaggerating their own experiences rather than trying to imagine living in Sweden having been there on holiday once. Better still, there’s not a hint of Nordic Noir anywhere, with a lovely sunny Sweden and no one simmering away or murdering anyone.
Greg Poehler, who actually looks a lot more like Greg Kinnear than Amy Poehler, is fine as the hapless and somewhat dull accountant. Much is made of his shorter stature by the script, with his potential mother-in-law (Olin) acting like he’s a virtual dwarf. His character’s being a ‘celebrity accountant’ means that there’s a good reason for lots of famous Americans (and Swedes) to show up, too.
All the same, jokes. It’s the flaw in Lilyhammer and other ‘funny’ co-productions – there just aren’t enough jokes. Welcome to Sweden’s amiable and you want to like it more than it actually makes you laugh.
At least, in English. The Swedish bits might be a lot funnier.