Adventures in Sweden
Last night I was watching Welcome to Sweden on NBC. It was near the end of the episode, when the main character's mother has called him up and says excitedly, "We have incredible news...!!" -- and at just that moment, waiting on the edge of my seat (or at least in the general vacinity) to hear the news, the NBC News logo cut in, along with the news themse. For just a moment, it was surreal -- wait, I thought, is this a joke? Part of the show? Not just the timing, but a comic way they were going to present the mother's news. But then reality set in, as Brian Williams appeared on screen and said, "In just a few minutes, President Obama will address the nation, and..."
Hey, actual news is actual news and easily trumps not finding out the end of a sitcom episode. It was might have been slightly more annoying years back before technology changed the landscape, but thanks to On Demand and TV online, I knew I'd be able to get the last minute. I did first call the elves back in Los Angeles about recording the later airing thanks to the time difference, but alas they were out, partying no doubt, rather than making sure everything at the home offices were running smoothly. But life goes on fine for such small things, and this morning the On Demand episode was active.
(I understand that the fine folks at On Demand don't want viewers to fast-forward past commercials, and so disable the feature, and that's fine, but there has to be a way where one should be able to fast-forward a broadcast but not the ads. Having to let a half-hour show run the entire half hour when all you want to see is just a few seconds towards the end seems such a poor use of good technology.)
By the way, if you haven't seen Welcome to Sweden, I find it a very entertaining, charming show. Though I know it's not for everyone. Not just that it's very bucolic and whimsical, but at least a third of the show is in Swedish and uses subtitles. (I read a funny interview with the show's creator, Greg Poehler, who joked that when he told his parents that the series had been picked up by NBC, though would have subtitles, complained to him, "You mean we have to read??!") They've been a bit repetitive in a lot of the fish-out-of-water jokes in the first five weeks, though the last two episodes have given a sense that they're starting to branch out more, as the main character Bruce recognizes he has to get more settled.
Greg Poehler, by the way, who also stars and co-writes the show, is the younger brother of Amy Poehler, who serves as executive producer. Up until only a few years ago, he was a lawyer. And the show is loosely inspired by his life when he got married to a Swedish woman and moved there. He does a very solid job on the show, with a light, comic touch. Though the show is made in Sweden -- which adds to the fresh visual looks -- periodically a few American stars have cropped up in cameos. Amy Poehler, of course, but also Will Farrell (who has a Swedish wife), Aubrey Plaza (a family friend), and Gene Simmons, who I believe was touring in Sweden at the time. The only other recognizable face is Lena Olin -- hardly known for her comedy, but quite good here -- who plays the very tough-minded psychiatrist mother of his girlfriend and cuts him no slack. Oddly enough, although Swedish, Olin was living in Los Angeles at the time with her family, but she moved back for filming. The girlfriend is played by Swedish actress Josephine Bournebusch, who thus far has co-written all the episodes, as well.
(And according to the end of this week's episode, it appears that two other familiar actors will be added on occasion as Poehler's parents, Patrick Duffy and Illeana Douglas.)
The show aired in Sweden even before being picked up by NBC, and has already been signed to a second year there, though that didn't guarantee a continuation in the U.S.for the summer replacement series. However, it was recently renewed by NBC. Because Saturday Night Live and Parks and Rec haven't been shown in Sweden, Amy Poehler isn't especially known there, so Greg Poehler jokes that it's probably the only country in the world where he's better known than his older sister. Though he adds that now that she's made cameos on the show they're starting to know who she is.
An amusing article here in Slate by Jeremy Stahl examines the show from the perspective of having a somewhat similar experience as Greg Poehler, being married to a Swedish women. In one passage, he writes about a very funny scene in last night's episode --
"Episode five, which airs Thursday night, involves Bruce trying to fit in and make friends in Stockholm. The show begins with Bruce interrupting a conversation about a dying person—it’s in Swedish, so he doesn’t know what it’s about—in order to do a Swedish Chef impression, because he’s bored. 'Hurdy-hurdy-gurdy! That’s all I hear when you guys are talking back and forth,' he says.
“'That’s something you would say,' my wife notes. It’s something I did say! When we first met I brought up the meatball-cooking, borking chaos muppet and asked Kristine what she thought of him. 'I don’t see how it’s funny,' was her deadpan response."
Anyway, as I said, the show most-definitely isn't for everyone. But apparently enough people have enjoyed to have NBC bring it back.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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