In order for something to be funny—In Sweden or the United States—it must first be funny. The challenge with being funny is that being deliberately funny is not very funny.

No, I am not talking about the entire episode of the new NBC show Welcome to Sweden. I am referring to the opening scene in which a celebrity, played by Amy Poehler, cans her accountant, played by Greg Poehler (that's Amy's brother in real life, whatever that is).
While the accountant is trying to tell his celebrity client that he will have to drop her because he is moving to Sweden, we see Amy Poehler "act," busy with the smartphone, texting away, so that, make no mistake about it, we can see that she is self-absorbed. This could be a funny moment, but these days we are so used to self-phone obsession (not a misprint), that the character better do something really funny or gross with the phone to gain our appreciation. Yes, Amy Poehler is phoning in her performance.


If you want more gross or attention-getting action that will evoke laughs, especially from an American, Puritanical audience, the sauna scene in which Poehler (sorry and thank you, no Amy) is about to pass out on the lower level of the benches to which his intolerance for heat has delegated him, delivers. Watching Poehler react to the father of his girlfriend, played in an impeccably modulated performance by Claes Månsson, who stands before him naked and gives him a hearty (perhaps this word is misplaced) welcome to Sweden and the family is must-see TV. Unfortunately the scene is marred by NBC's huge square pixilation of the father's butt, but we can still manage to concentrate on the expressions of the jet-lagged, alcohol-fatigued Poehler, whose face is just about within reach of Pappa Birger's Schlong.
While we are on the topic of bodily functions, the scene in which the entire new family is celebrating the Swedish tradition of crayfish fest is funny as it is dominated by the loud sucking of crayfish heads by Swedes while poor Poehler is trying to explain why he has come to Sweden.

In this scene and in others, it is the mother of the girlfriend, played by none other than the beautiful-as-ever Lena Olin, who is truly funny. I don't know if her comedy translates well in the captions (I immediately and automatically switched over to Swedish), but she is hilarious in her matter-of-fact, yet outspoken ways about many things. Even though the song and protestations about Randy Newman's hit "Short People" has run its course in America, Olin adds a whole new dimension to being obsessed with people who are short. In both verbal and physical comedy she is one to watch, to watch twice.
The new-found family on the island during the beautiful summer in Sweden in a red summer house includes the brother Gustav of Poehler's girlfriend, a kind of loser, a Swedish Cheech and Chong of clear alcohol, a specimen that shows there are indeed Swedes that have physiques measuring up to Chris Farley's, may this great comedian rest in peace. He has nothing to worry about from Christopher Wagelin, however, who probably just needs more practice to bring a piece of humanity to the two-dimensional portrayal so we will be more amused by the stock character he has to play.

Yippee-ki-yay mother-BLEEP!
If there is someone who steals the show or at least holds his own, it is the American-crazed, movie-obsessed Bengt, played by Per Svensson, who owns a video store and comes across as a deliberate version of a kind of Dennis Hopper renegade, only he drives a red Mustang. Svensson's performance is an example of how a stereotype can be turned into funny when an actor has talent. That's right, he does not phone in his performance.

I have not yet said anything about the girlfriend, Emma, played by Josephine Bornebusch, who is beautiful with teeth so white and hair so blond that she lights up the Swedish summer night where there is perpetual light. Her Swedish accent in English is barely noticeable and when she smiles it is refreshing to see a bite that has not been corrected by an orthodontist. She is touchable, real beauty, and it is understandable that Poehler has come across the giant pond to "find himself" in her company.

I have not yet commented much on Poehler's performance, all the while marking the review with his name, instead of that of the accountant he plays. That is because Poehler is the pivot around which the comedy revolves, this carousel of sometime merriment success, as he is like a breath of fresh air, excuse the cliché, and the perfect foil for other characters to react against. When I first saw him appear, I thought he looked like Greg Kinnear. This guy, Greg Kinnear also, has talent and it is marvelous to watch. Poehler is Everyman, if there ever was a likeable Everyman, and I hope there still are. I could see Jimmy Stewart take Poehler under his wing, in a time warp.
What was less marvelous to watch, besides strange pixilation, including a moment the movie-crazed Bengt said something, was an awkward cut to commercial during the crayfish celebration, followed by a quick flashback afterwards to the mutual "firing" scene between the Poehler siblings.

There also appeared to be two kinds of movie, yes I am aware this is a half-hour comedy TV show, playing, one with horny, happy, romantic Poehler and girlfriend in the car, and the closing of the episode when they sit on the dock and kiss and proclaim love in the midsummer night light. And in between, sandwiched, American-style, using two pieces of bread, is the comedic artillery. There was simply too much crammed into one episode, I hope is the explanation.
What did I think of Welcome to Sweden? There is that wonderful Swedish saying, Lagom är bäst. That would have been good advice for the show to take. Don't try so hard at times. But maybe things will find a way to work themselves out in the long run, if the show has one.

Ulf Kirchdorfer