Welcome to Sweden premieres Thursday, July 10 at 8pm on NBC.Working the Engels premieres Thursday, July 10 at 8:30pm on NBC.
Once the source of several quality sitcoms, NBC's well is running a little dry. And so, this summer, the network's trying something new by outsourcing its comedy. Thursday nights are now home to two new series that are coproduced in other countries. Unfortunately, neither lives up to the standards previously set by this once strong network.
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While it may have been largely shot and coproduced abroad, Welcome to Sweden has clear U.S. roots. NBC darling Amy Poehler serves as a producer and guest star of the series based on her brother Greg Poehler's personal experience. The latter Poehler plays Bruce Evans, an accountant to the stars who drops his job to join his girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) on her move home to Sweden. What proceeds is a series of standard fish-out-of-water scenarios featuring Emma's eccentric family, lead by the uncharacteristically funny Lena Olin.
In an effort to boost Sweden's profile, Bruce is frequently dogged by his former celebrity clients in a series of transparent guest appearances that are rarely as funny as they should be. Amy Poehler and her Parks and Rec co-star Aubrey Plaza stop by multiple times as horrid versions of themselves for an unpleasant extended storyline where Amy throws her friend at Bruce in an effort to lure him back to the States to help her evade taxes. Will Ferrell's visit is the most rewarding, especially when the actor—who is married to Swedish actress Viveca Paulin—shames Bruce for not successfully learning to speak Swedish by demonstrating his fluency in the language.
Unlike Welcome to Sweden, the Canadian coproduction Working the Engels doesn't attempt to gain any mileage by highlighting its foreign locale, which is fairly common with most Canadian-produced series that air in the U.S. The quirky family comedy, which finds a trio of siblings and their mother attempting to right the family law firm after the death of their father, plays like a '90s American sitcom. Straight-edge lawyer Jenna (Kacey Rohl) takes on her father's case-load, while siblings Sandy (Azura Skye) and Jimmy (Benjaming Arthur) do their best to help, but end up getting in the way. The fabulous Andrea Martin stars as the Engel matriarch, Ceil, but after some broad theatrics in the pilot, she's shockingly underused in later episodes.
Stories that find the uptight Jenna posing as a stripper in order to get close to the target of a case feel uncomfortably dated. And after Arrested Development, the wild and crazy antics of the rest of the Engel family are incredibly uninspired and unfunny.
Both of these series lack a strong character at its core. Greg Poheler proves that his sister's wildly charismatic onscreen presence is not a genetic characteristic, while Rohl (who was intensely engaging in Hannibal) is unable to make sense of lazily written lead. Both shows are capable of producing a handful of chuckles, but there's too much dead space between laughs and far too many recycled punchlines. With comedy this uninspired, you'd be better off trading these stale sitcoms for classic reruns.