Amy Poehler’s brother makes his own venture into sitcom territory, by way of Sweden — and a family connection.
For decades, the title of the most popular Swede on network television belonged to the absent-minded chef on “The Muppet Show.”
That may all change with Thursday’s U.S. debut of “Welcome to Sweden,” an inventive sitcom about Bruce Evans, an All-American accountant who abandons the comforts of New York and moves to Stockholm to be with his girlfriend, Emma, who’s so blonde and blue-eyed, she could have been manufactured at Ikea.
What follows is a steady stream of misunderstandings, language barriers, cultural differences and everything else that would leave a fish out of water gasping for air.
The series, which has been picked up by NBC for 10 episodes, is based on the real-life escapades of Greg Poehler, who is making his debut as an actor and TV creator.
“I tried to capture what it’s like to be an immigrant, not just in Sweden, but any time you move to a new place. It can be a pretty lonely existence,” said Poehler from his home in Stockholm, where he moved a decade ago. “In reality, my wife’s family was really supportive, but it wouldn’t be a very compelling show if a guy moves to another country, everything’s great and he gets a job right away. But every episode starts with things that actually happened to me.”
Poehler readily admits that his rapid rise to sitcom star is tied somewhat to his last name. Sister Amy Poehler, a “Saturday Night Live” breakout star and Golden Globe winner for “Parks and Recreation,” quickly signed on as an executive producer and makes several sidesplitting cameos as herself, desperately trying to lure her accountant Bruce back to the States.
“The fact she wanted to come on board was an early affirmation that we had something really good,” he said. “She’d never put her name on something she didn’t believe in. I’ve seen other family members unsuccessfully pitch her over the years.”
Her faith has been rewarded — at least in Sweden, where the first season has already aired. The series, which is tops among younger viewers, has been picked up for a second season and has made Greg Poehler a star in Stockholm.
“I’m stopped on the streets all the time,” he said. “I think people are surprised that I actually live here. I’m simply known as ‘the American.’ ”
Despite the fact that Swedes are gently skewered on a number of fronts, from their passive-aggressive nature to their love of skinny-dipping, there has been little grumbling among viewers.
“I think the story resonated here because the characters are relatable, even with — or perhaps because of — their flaws,” said Kelly Bjorklund, a blogger for Minneapolis’ American Swedish Institute, who moved from the Twin Cities to Sweden to be with a loved one. “I also found Swedes to be very curious of me and people from other cultures, and the series indulges this curiosity.”
Whether Americans will reciprocate the interest is a long shot. Summer network sitcoms rarely get blockbuster numbers, and roughly 25 percent of the dialogue is in Swedish, with English subtitles, which may be a turnoff for viewers.
Minnesotans may be an exception — one-third of the state’s population is of Scandinavian descent.
Poehler actually finds that puzzling.
“I don’t get why Swedes left this crazy cold climate and moved to a similar climate,” he said. “Can’t wrap my brains around it.”
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