Lena Olin is going to be funny on NBC this summer.
I didn’t expect to write that sentence any more than you probably expected to read it, but encountering the unexpected is one of the joys of this job, and of “Welcome to Sweden,” which is already a hit in Sweden and premieres Thursday night on NBC.
With occasional subtitles.
Created by, and starring, Greg Poehler, whose sister Amy Poehler — maybe you’ve heard of her? — is an executive producer, the show was inspired by Greg Poehler’s experiences as an American in Sweden, where his show’s already been renewed.
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The lawyer-turned-comedian lives in Stockholm with his wife and three children, but his character, Bruce, is a newcomer who meets his Swedish girlfriend, Emma (Josephine Bornebusch), in the U.S. and agrees to move when she lands a big job back home.
Home is where Olin (“Chocolat”) comes in. The Swedish actress plays Emma’s mother, a therapist named Viveka who has trouble drawing a line between family and patients and who, along with Emma’s father, a retired sea captain named Birger (Claes Mansson), is hilariously dismissive of Bruce, who barely speaks a word of Swedish.
Less hilarious: The slightly forced cameos by Amy Poehler, her “Parks & Recreation” co-star Aubrey Plaza and Gene Simmons, all of whom appear as former clients of Bruce, who’s left behind a life as a celebrity accountant.
Will Ferrell, who speaks Swedish in next week’s episode — he, too, is married to a Swede in real life — fits in better. Maybe cameos are how they sold it to NBC, since Greg Poehler, who looks like Greg Kinnear, is only half a household name.
Bornebusch, a Swedish comedy star, will get to show off her chops, but that Emma and Bruce are taking their situation seriously is what makes the funny that occasionally swirls around them work. And it works best when it’s not working too hard.
Like Netflix’s Norwegian-based comedy “Lilyhammer,” “Welcome to Sweden” is a show with a foot in two countries, and two languages. Tired as I am of settling for U.S. remakes of foreign hits like “The Killing,” I’m even more tired of associating Scandinavian scenery exclusively with blood.
I don’t know if this gentle bilingual comedy can change that, but it’s more than welcome to try.
‘Working the Engels’
International cooperation also brings us “Working the Engels,” another comedy coming to NBC Thursday.
A Canadian coproduction, it features “SCTV” veteran Andrea Martin as a wacky widow whose lawyer husband left her $200,000 in debt and whose only responsible child (Kacey Rohl, “Hannibal,” “The Killing”) ditches corporate law to run her father’s firm — with her dubious family’s help.
It’s no “Arrested Development,” but Martin’s still a hoot, and it’s good to see Rohl in something a bit less dark.