Before I picked up Welcome to Sweden, which is one of very few new shows to air during this past summer, I read a couple articles enumerating reasons people weren't watching it, all of which I dismissed as dumb. The biggest complaint was subtitles. "Oh, no! This show about Swedish people set in Sweden that also airs in Sweden features people speaking Swedish! How will I ever cope?!?" This is a magnificently stupid reason to not watch a show. Know what's a better one? A hopelessly unlikeable protagonist.

Greg Poehler (brother to Amy and probable love child of Greg Kinnear - I mean, LOOK AT HIM) created and stars in this series based on his real life relationship, for which he actually did move to Sweden. I was really looking forward to watching, in part because there aren't enough shows that capably feature fish-out-of-water plotlines. Starting a new life in a new country has got to be one of the most challenging, surreal, exciting experiences of someone's life, and the subsequent culture shock is ripe for satire. Not knowing what to say in social situations or how to handle an unfamiliar job market or getting flustered with a language barrier all have unlimited potential to tell jokes about. The show practically writes itself! What could sink it? A hopelessly unlikeable protagonist.

A lot of the show elements showed promise. The relationship between Bruce (Poehler) and Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) hits a lot of the same beats a typical American sitcom would, but the addition of purely Swedish elements freshened up the premise. Lena Olin is reliably terrific as Emma's mother, who radiates judgmental disapproval in one scene before warmly accepting a new acquaintance by offering her shrooms in another. It's a well-shot show that takes full advantage of its picturesque locale. But there are some things I can't get over. For example... A hopelessly unlikeable protagonist.

Yes, there's just one problem with this show, but it's a dealbreaker of a problem: I hate Bruce. I don't know if it's the writing (which makes the mistake of turning Bruce into a brash, stupid, rude jerk rather than a bewildered foreigner doing his best to adapt) or if Poehler just isn't a strong enough actor to elevate the material. There are plenty of unlikeable characters on TV that I enjoy, but in those cases, there's always a mitigating factor. No such factor exists with Bruce. The show would dearly like us to be invested in Bruce and Emma's relationship, and for us to root for them to make it, against all odds. But when Emma's mother scoffs to her daughter that she's way too good for this lout, I can't help but think she's right. All the Swedish parts of the show are great, but I don't find Ugly Americanism funny or charming.

Welcome to Sweden was a smash hit in... Wait for it... Sweden. So it's already been renewed for a second season, but as far as one American living room goes, it's the end of the line. I'd happily watch a decent show set in another country, and the situations mined for laughs here are ones I'd very much like to see explored. Just do a better job of casting the American next time.

Welcome to Sweden - Season 1: C+


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime