WelcometoSwedencoverGrade: B/B+
Entire family: No
2014, 220 min. (10 episodes), Color
Not Rated (would be PG)
Entertainment One
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Swedish and English Dolby Digital 5.1 (English subtitles)
Bonus features: N/A
Amazon link

Welcome to Sweden is a Swedish situation comedy in English and Swedish (with English subtitles) that aired simultaneously on The Comedy Network in Canada and on NBC in the United States last year. Executive produced by comedian Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation), it stars her brother, Greg, as a New York accountant to celebrities who makes a ton of money but realizes that what he really wants is to be Swedish . . . to move to Sweden to live with his serious new Swedish girlfriend.

In a TV series that’s built around culture (and personality) clashes, because of his honesty poor Bruce (Poehler) gets into almost as much inadvertent trouble as Larry David does in Curb Your Enthusiasm—except that unlike David, he’s actually a nice, thoughtful guy. Bruce was raised in a small midwestern town, though he isn’t nearly as conservative or religious as his parents. His philosophy is the kind of laid-back “things will work out” (i.e., fix themselves) attitude more common to California than New York. So when he meets Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) and they hit it off, he decides to quit his lucrative job and follow her to Sweden, where she returns to be with family and to work in a bank.

For a sitcom, Welcome to Sweden has a real low-key indie vibe to it, but once Greg gets off the plane in Stockholm and moves in with Emma and her family, it also starts to feel like a milder, more sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek version of Meet the Parents. Viveka (Lena Olin) is the vivacious mom who feels herself getting older and wants to live a second-chance life through her daughter, but the fact that she married a much older man (Claes Mansson as Birger) who’s now less vital is an annoying reminder of how much she herself has aged. A former sea captain, Birger is as tall as Bruce is short, quiet and reserved as Bruce is prone to babble nervously. And those contrasts too add fuel to the comic fire. So does Emma’s slacker brother Gustaf (Christopher Wagelin) and a host of minor characters with single quirks or identifiers.  

WelcometoSwedenscreenAmy Poehler appears in five episodes as herself—one of the celebrities Bruce dumped to go to Sweden. But since her finances are in a wreck and the IRS is breathing down her neck, she’s enlisted fellow Parks and Recreation actress Aubrey Plaza to go to Sweden and try to convince Bruce to come back to the States. The 10 episodes follow a continuous storyline of cultural and family adjustments that are enhanced by subplots involving their scheme, a conniving Aubrey, a suspected pregnancy, Bruce’s job search, an ex-boyfriend of Emma’s, and a parental split that Bruce feels responsible for.

It might not be as laugh-out-loud funny as you’d expect, but that’s not the tone Swedish director Carl Astrand was going for. Ultimately that feels like a good call, because the indie-sitcom vibe really works here. Aside from sauna scenes involving male nudity (nothing shown, really) and an opening title sequence shot of bare-butted males scampering toward the river, there really isn’t anything that younger viewers couldn’t see. It’s just that the plot lines are all about relationships of all sorts, and that means anyone younger than mid-teens will probably be bored.

Language: Minor swearwords, but no F-bombs that I noticed
Sex: Nothing here either
Violence: Again, pretty squeaky clean
Adult situations: Aside from the aforementioned male nudity and adult situations involving couples, there’s nothing much here either
Takeaway: A likable group of characters can go a long way toward making a series successful