Welcome to Sweden
NBC's Thursday-night comedy block has certainly seen better days. We're long past the era of Seinfeld and Friends, and even The Office and 30 Rock are starting to fade from view. But if there's one thing we know about the broadcast networks, it's that they aren't afraid to cling to once-successful series long after they've depreciated. Or to burn off mediocre comedies during the warm-weather months. Starting this week, NBC will add two new sitcoms to its Thursday evening lineup, Welcome to Sweden and Working the Engels. But given the state of NBC's comedies and given that it's early July, you might be a little unfamiliar or undecided about 'em—if you've even heard them at all. Are they nice summer comforts, or simply the television equivalent of the mosquitos you swat away? Find out in this latest edition of Seriously, Those Are Real Titles, Like for Real TV Shows?!
Welcome to what and working the whom? What are these things?
Yeah, chances are you haven't heard of either one of these shows. No judgment, it's the summer, after all. Welcome to Sweden is a single-camera comedy that follows Bruce, an American accountant to the stars, as he quits his job and moves halfway around the world to live with his girlfriend Emma in her homeland of Sweden. And get this: Culture shock—and hilarity—ensues. Sweden's schedule-mate Working the Engels centers on the dysfunctional and oftentimes criminal Engel clan as they try to keep the family law practice together after their patriarch passes away. Of course, it's up to relatively straight-laced daughter Jenna to keep her kooky mother Ceil, dolt brother Jimmy, and selfish sister Sandy in check.
Welcome to Sweden
Who stars in and who created these shows?
Welcome to Sweden is the more high-profile of the two projects. It was co-created by Greg Poehler, the younger brother of America's Sweetheart Amy Poehler; Greg also stars as main guy Bruce. The series is actually fairly autobiographical in nature, as Greg married a Swedish woman some years ago, and the rest of the cast is filled out with Swedish locals: Josephine Borebusch plays Bruce's ladyfriend Emma, Claes Månsson plays Emma's father Birger, and Lena Olin (Alias, Chocolat) plays her mother Viveka. And the Poehler family connection means that Amy P., her Parks co-star Aubrey Plaza, and Will Ferrell make appearances within the first three episodes, while Patrick Duffy (Dallas) shows up later as Bruce's dad.
Meanwhile, Working the Engels was created by Katie Ford and Jane Ford, the former of whom penned Miss Congeniality and an episode of Desperate Housewives. It stars a bunch of people that you'll recognize, even if you don't know their names. Andrea Martin (SCTV, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is the matriarch Ceil, and Kacey Rohl (Hannibal, The Killing) is well-meaning daughter Jenna, while Azura Skye (random appearances on everything from House to American Horror Story) and Benjamin Arthur (American Reunion) are the less responsible children Sandy and Jimmy.
When does the fresh meat premiere?
Welcome to Sweden and Working the Engels make their NBC debuts on Thursday, July 10, at 9pm and 9:30pm, respectively, after a brand-new episode of Hollywood Game Night.
Working the Engels
Who might enjoy the trip to Sweden and the scam-lawyering lesson?
It's a tricky question, because although these shows are airing together in the same comedy block, they're not entirely compatible. Welcome to Sweden will appeal to people who love the Poehler family and various NBC stars, as well as to those who like low-stakes, warm-and-comfy comedies that don't go for big jokes. It's more Ben and Kate or Growing Up Fisher than 30 Rock or Community, if you know what I mean.
Working the Engels is much more mean-spirited and certainly tries to cram in more zingers. If you enjoy Michael Bluth's relationship with his parents on Arrested Development but wish it was less funny, Working the Engels might be right up your alley. The one constant is that both shows are co-productions (with Sweden with Sweden and Engels with Canada) and have thus already aired their full seasons elsewhere. That means they're almost guaranteed to run all their episodes here as well, so if you want a couple of comedies that you know you can rely on for the rest of the summer, here ya go.
What are some positive things about these two shows?
Here's the good news: Neither show is offensively bad. Welcome to Sweden is the better of the two because it doesn't appear to be trying as hard. Greg Poehler is a solid leading man in the fish-out-of-water setting, and he's supported by some fine performances from the rest of the cast. While the series makes regular jokes about cultural differences, it also doesn't over-rely on them as much as you might expect. And weirdly, the random guest appearances from Plaza and Ferrell aren't distracting; they actually fit into the story pretty well.
Working the Engels is about as generic as they come and has no problem being a little distasteful if it means wrenching one more laugh out of a situation. Brother watching his sister work a pole? Sure. Throwing a fake funeral for your still-alive mother, with her body in the casket? Of course. That type of humor doesn't always work, but I appreciate the gusto at which the show brings it.
Working the Engels
Are there any negative things I should know about these two shows?
Here's the bad news: These are still summer comedies for reason. I watched three episodes of each, and it wasn't an especially must-see experience. You likely won't be laughing out loud at either one, even with their different approaches to comedy. While Sweden doesn't try that hard for laughs, much of the humor asks you to care about (or at least pay attention to) the characters to really get the full impact. When it's easy to let your mind wander, it's harder to like the jokes.
Engels is simply not as good as Sweden, and the characters aren't just boring, they're unlikable. There's no real reason to feel sympathy for them when they're scheming and scamming their way through cases as they try to keep the law firm together. Rohl's Jenna is our entry point into the world and she's okay, but everyone else is so insufferable that you just know they're going to railroad any charm that the responsible daughter brings to the table.
So, should I watch either show?
Welcome to Sweden might be worth DVRing a couple of times to see what you think. Avoid Working the Engels like the summer schedule-filler it is.
Can I see some trailers?
Of course, friends.
Welcome to Sweden and Working the Engels premiere Thursday, July 10, at 9pm and 9:30pm on NBC.