Following in an older sibling's footsteps can be daunting, but thank God Greg Poehler had the balls to try or else we never would have gotten to see the refreshing and hilarious new comedy Welcome to Sweden.
The semi-autobiographical series, which premieres on Thursday at 9/8c on NBC and is already a hit (and renewed!) in Sweden, is based on Poehler's experiences leaving his high-powered job in New York and moving to Stockholm to be with the love of his life.
Except when Poehler wrote the script in his attic two and a half years ago, he never expected it would eventually lead to him running and starring in his own international sitcom. In fact, initially he had no idea how to even write a screenplay. So he did what any of us would do: He Googled it. But, unsure if he had gotten it right, Poehler then did what any of us wish we could do: He asked his older sister Amy — yes, as in Parks and Rec star Amy Poehler — to look over his work.
Summer TV's must-watch new shows
"I just wanted to know if it looked like the scripts she had seen," Poehler told reporters. "I had no expectations at all. I certainly wasn't asking her to be involved, because I know that's not what you do."
A few days later, Amy, who executive produces the show and recurs as herself, called him saying she wanted in. "I think part of the reason is because in the synopsis I put 'and will have a bunch of American cameos' so I think she realized that she was going to have to be making phone calls to her friends, so she might as well get paid for it," Poehler joked.
Amy's involvement soon turned the project into bigger ordeal and was likely an influence in Sweden landing at NBC (which is also home to Parks). Armed with the knowledge that Sweden was going to have to appeal to both American and Swedish audiences from its conception, Poehler did everything he could to find the universality in the show's comedy, rather than rely on stereotypes or cheap gags. "When you're talking about culture clash, no show can rely just on that. It gets old pretty quickly," Poehler said. "We tried to find stuff that we all as a group found funny. And if it was anything that didn't work for Swedes or for Americans, then we just got rid of it."
Another aspect Poehler refused to compromise on was that the Swedes in Sweden speak actual Swedish to each other. (Try saying that ten times fast). "I want it to be real and sweet and funny, in that order. I hate watching shows that are set in another country where they're speaking with an accent but in English. Drives me nuts watching that," Poehler said. "I feel like we should have moved on as a society by now where we can at least play it real."
For those of you who are already hesitant about the subtitles, don't worry. They don't occur much more often than in any run-of-the mill reality show (and you won't be subjected to any lascivious "slurping" captions). As for those of you who are completely against subtitles on principle, Poehler couldn't care less. "The people that are anti-reading while watching television or otherwise I don't think are our target market anyway," he explained.
Subtitles aside, we understand that summer is typically a time to fill your DVR with silly reality shows and over-the-top series, but break from the mold and add something different to your rotation. Welcome to Sweden is a light-hearted and clever look at both Swedish and American cultures that is as addicting as it is charming. Poehler shines as the bumbling straight man Bruce as he amusingly bounces off his cautiously disapproving girlfriend's mother (Lena Odin) and her wonderfully spacey father (Claes Månsson). But it's Bruce's rapport with his girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) that grounds the show and often provides some of the best comedy.
Sweden's first season also features an array of familiar guest stars, including Will Ferrell, Gene Simmons, Malin Akerman and even one of the members of ABBA (at an ABBA museum, no less). Plus, Aubrey Plaza recurs as a version of herself who closely resembles what her Parks alter-ego April would have been like if Leslie Knope had never come into her life. In short: Plaza is real treat.
However, those names listed above meant nothing to the show's Swedish viewers when compared to Patrick Duffy, who plays Bruce's father. "Patrick Duffy is still the most famous guy in Sweden," Poehler explained, noting the continuing bizarre popularity of Dallas in the country. "Walking around with him was an experience," he recalled. "He loved it too. I think it's been a long time since he's got that sort of adoration ... He was readily admitting that he wanted to go around and get recognized. It was very cute."
Welcome to Sweden premieres Thursday at 9/8c on NBC. Will you watch?