Tag Archives: Parks and Recreation

Welcome to Sweden, Working the Engels bow on NBC

'Welcome to Sweden' premieres tonight on NBC.

Josephine Bornebusch and Greg Poehler star in the delightfully grown-up romantic comedy `Welcome to Sweden,’ premiering tonight on NBC.

NBC premieres two new summer comedies tonight. The titles of both start with the letter W, they’re both about families and they’re both “foreign” in a sense. Stylistically, however, they’re very different, although both are single-camera (i.e., no laugh track) sitcoms.
First up, and by far the stronger, is Welcome to Sweden, a fresh, charming romantic comedy created by Greg Poehler, kid brother to NBC’s sitcom sweetheart, Amy (Parks and Recreation), who is the show’s executive producer. Don’t shrug off this show as an exercise in nepotism, though. It’s an original.
Poehler, a lawyer turned stand-up comic and now actor, based Welcome to Sweden largely on his own life experiences, chiefly how he hoisted anchor and moved from the United States several years ago with his then-girlfriend and moved to her native Sweden, where they live nowadays just outside Stockholm with their kids. Poehler’s sitcom counterpart is Bruce Evans, a successful but bored New York accountant who has started daydreaming of another, more fulfilling career when his girlfriend, Emma Wiik (Josephine Bornebusch, also one of the show’s co-writers), accepts a big banking promotion that requires her to move back to Sweden.
Thus, the impetuous Bruce moves without a job to a new country where he can’t even speak the language, which, by the way, is fairly complex to the point that its alphabet includes non-English letters. Emma’s close-knit family includes her laconic father, Birger (Claes Mansson), and therapist mother, Viveka (Lena Olin, Alias), who welcome Bruce yet are frankly baffled that the man hasn’t made much of an effort to learn Swedish. (Viveka also is almost comically stunned that her future son-in-law is so “short,” although Poehler is at least average height by American standards).
What follows is a mostly delightful fish-out-of-water comedy, as Bruce tries to master the cultural differences of his adopted country. Poehler shrewdly conceived Welcome to Sweden to work for both Swedish and American TV audiences, which is why the show has a mostly Swedish cast, yet is performed almost entirely in English, thanks to the plot point that Bruce cannot speak Swedish. (There are a few subtitled moments where Emma’s family switches to Swedish because they’re talking about Bruce and don’t want him to know what they’re really saying). The show also includes cameo appearances by American celebrities, including Amy Poehler and her Parks and Rec castmate Aubrey Plaza, Will Ferrell and KISS frontman Gene Simmons. Patrick Duffy and Illeana guest star in a couple of episodes as Greg’s visiting Midwestern parents.
As Welcome to Sweden unfolds, it gradually becomes more about the ways in which the characters are fundamentally alike than culturally and linguistically different, although it doesn’t hit us over the head with this message. Welcome to Sweden is aimed at adults, and frankly, it more often generates smiles of recognition than conventional belly laughs.
Yet Poehler – who, by the way, looks almost disconcertingly like Greg Kinnear’s baby brother – has his own distinctive comic sensibility and perspective, along with an unpredictably delightful story to tell. I hope NBC viewers will give a warm welcome to Welcome to Sweden. A second season already has been ordered by the show’s Swedish broadcasters, and fingers crossed the show’s success will translate Stateside, too.
Welcome to Sweden is followed immediately by Working the Engels, another, far broader comedy about a “foreign” family. In this case, the show is pretty defiantly Canadian, right down to its theme song by Barenaked Ladies, a predominantly Canadian cast and crew and, for once, a Canadian urban backdrop that is NOT trying to pass as a U.S. city. (Working the Engels aired in Canada earlier this year).
The great Andrea Martin – who technically was born in Maine, but is informally an honorary Canadian, thanks to her unforgettable, Emmy-winning years on the Toronto-based SCTV sketch show – stars as Ceil Engel, a doting helicopter mom forced to rally her three children when Ceil’s attorney husband and family breadwinner dies, leaving them a storefront law firm that is $200,000 in the red.
Thankfully, daughter Jenna (Kasey Rohl) is a qualified attorney, but her two siblings – kooky Sandy (Azura Skye) and dim-bulb Jimmy (Ben Arthur) – haven’t got a lick of legal training or expertise between them. Jimmy, formerly a smalltime crook, is reasonably capable of being the office muscle, but Sandy – who at present is ill-advisedly trying out a career as a life coach and ordained-online minister – is still flailing about for a professional identity.
Jenna, clearly, is the most together of the Engels family, yet Ceil is obsessed with the lack of romance in her life. When Jenna remarks that she enjoys being alone, Ceil freaks out, saying, “You know who also said that? The lady who was so fat, they had to CUT HER out of her house. Jenna, you are 600 pounds and 14 cats away from trouble!”
NBC sent out five episodes for preview. Working the Engels is an old-fangled show in its construction, but it gets better as it goes along. Most episodes feature Jenna in a main storyline about the office, while Ceil and Sandy get a secondary, far zanier plotline. Everything comes together very comically, however, by episode five, in which for complicated reasons Sandy is trying to pass herself off as the author of an erotic legal thriller called “Banging Gavels” (the manuscript is very heavily drawn from Sandy’s actual diary).
Ceil sees the commercial prospects of this “novel,” but offers Sandy her services as an editor.
“For one thing, you spelled ‘intercourse’ with a ‘k,’ “ Ceil points out. “And you might want to change some names.”
“Of who?” Sandy asks.
“Our neighbors’ husbands.”
Martin works very, very hard to sell the weaker material, and Skye – one of those brilliant and beautiful comediennes who never has broken out as she should have – is absolutely adorable, and both Rohl and Arthur are likable enough. Too much of Working the Engels is a hit-or-miss affair, though, despite guest appearances by celebrity Canadians Eugene Levy (SCTV), Scott Thompson (Kids in the Hall) and Gregory (billed here as “Greg”) Smith (Rookie Blue). Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills, 90210) directed most of the episodes NBC sent out for preview.
Working the Engels is a very broad comedy that works fairly well as lightweight summer entertainment, but I’ll be surprised if the Engels keep working past their first season.
Working the Engels

Kacey Rohl, Ben Arthur, Andrea Martin and Azura Skye (from left) star in ‘Working the Engels,’ a Canadian-American sitcom premiering tonight on NBC.

Top cops, dud ‘Dads’

Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher (from left)
One of the fall’s better sitcoms bows tonight on Fox with the premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a fast-paced new police comedy with Emmy winners Andre Braugher and former Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg heading a strong ensemble cast.
Created by former Parks and Recreation writers-producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, the single-camera comedy is set in the titular New York precinct, where high-spirited Detective Jake Peralta (Samberg) has been given a long leash for his madcap antics until the arrival of a new captain, Ray Holt (Braugher).
Jake has worn several of his superiors raw with his stunts and clowning (“I’ve talked a lot about Jake in my department-mandated counseling sessions,” confesses one sergeant), but the fact is, he’s the best detective in the precinct. Ray, however, insists that Jake maintain his sterling success rate while being more professional, which includes – oh, the horror! – wearing a necktie.
At this point, we think we’re seeing yet another cop comedy about a rule-breaking rookie and a by-the-book veteran, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a few tricks up its sleeve, and these characters don’t always behave the way you’d expect them to.
Given that Braugher is best known for his intense dramatic work in shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street, I was pleasantly surprised to see the relaxed confidence he brings to the very likable Ray. After years of playing some broad comedy on SNL, Samberg shows some authentic acting chops here as well, although his Jake is a character who is often a hair’s breadth from going over the top. Here’s hoping Samberg never crosses that line.
The ensemble also includes One Life to Live alumna Melissa Fumero as Jake’s partner, Detective Amy Santiago, whose fiercely competitive spirit is fueled by a childhood vying with seven brothers; Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as Sgt. Terry Jeffords, who has been on administrative leave since the birth of his beloved twins, Cagney and Lacey; Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad) as sad-sack klutz Detective Charles Boyle; and Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation) as meddling office manager Gina Linetti, all delivering their snappy dialogue with real style.
Ironically, this superior sitcom is preceded tonight by the worst network comedy I’ve seen since ABC’s excruciating 2012 men-in-drag office comedy Work It. I’m talking about Dads, a painfully unfunny multi-camera show from Seth MacFarlane and two other members of his Family Guy and Ted creative teams.
Dads isn’t the only new fall network sitcom to squander a good cast on lame material, but it’s arguably the worst. Seth Green and Giovani Ribisi star as, respectively, Eli and Warner, longtime friends and co-founders of a successful video game company. Warner’s life is routinely complicated by the half-baked get-rich-quick schemes of his father, Crawford (Martin Mull), who lives with Warner. By the end of the pilot, events have transpired that force Eli’s dad, David (Peter Riegert), to move in with his son as well. Intergenerational tensions ensue, to put it mildly.
You may already have heard about the controversy over a scene in the pilot where Eli and Warner coerce their assistant, Veronica (Brenda Song), into dressing up as a “sexy Asian schoolgirl” to charm some visiting potential Chinese investors. In terms of political correctness, the scene is both racist and sexist on some levels, but since Veronica is written and played as the smartest person in the room, the men actually are the butt of the joke.
No, the far more serious problem with Dads is that it just feels lazy, ill-conceived and witless. An appalling number of the jokes are stale – one of them, involving a character mispronouncing the word “Shiite,” I remember hearing for the first time a quarter-century ago on Murphy Brown – and the writers seem to be just throwing everything they can think of against the wall to see what sticks. Very little does.
In tonight’s premiere, three bits are allowed to go on far too long. In the first, Eli and Warner swap thuddingly unfunny one-liners about how irritating their fathers are. In the second, Crawford and David both go to tedious lengths to avoid being stuck with the lunch check at a diner. Finally, and most painful to watch, a frustrated Eli sneaks up behind his dad while he’s watching TV and mimes a variety of ways he’d like to murder his old man. It drags on. For. Ever.
Let me just add here, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’m generally a MacFarlane fan. His appearances on talk shows such as Real Time With Bill Maher have shown him to be a really smart, articulate guy, and Ted turned out to be a box-office blockbuster with genuine heart. I even enjoyed his much-criticized hosting of the last Academy Awards telecast.
Dads, however, isn’t going to do much to dress up his resume. Here’s hoping the network puts this dud to a merciful death quickly.
Martin Mull, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green and Peter Riegert (from left)

Hulu’s new ‘The Awesomes’ falls well short of its title

It only makes sense that the streaming service Hulu would try for its own slice of the original-programming pie that has proven so lucrative for its chief competitor, Netflix. Unfortunately, The Awesomes – an animated superhero spoof premiering today on the service – isn’t likely to make much of an impression among viewers.
Co-created by Seth Meyers (Saturday Night Live) and Michael Shoemaker (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon), this new half-hour program has very little original to offer. Its very title sounds like a knockoff of The Incredibles, an infinitely superior animated superhero project, and its central premise, built around a team of C-list heroes, is reminiscent of comedies like the live-action movie Mystery Men, not to mention countless TV comedy sketches, including Meyers’ own SNL.
The series opens as Mr. Awesome (voiced by Steve Higgins) announces on his 90th birthday that he is retiring from his longtime job as leader of the valiant team of heroes known as The Awesomes. His son, Jeremy (Meyers), is aghast, however, when none of the other heroes is willing to take up the mantle of leadership and, when Jeremy volunteers for the job himself, the team pointedly disbands completely.
The U.S. government gives Jeremy, aka Professor Doctor Awesome (“Prock,” for short), 48 hours to put together a viable new team, but the only likely candidates are former rejects such as Frantic (Taran Killam), a speedy but scatterbrained loose cannon; the Impresario (Kenan Thompson), who can conjure hard-light images to combat villains, although those images usually take the form of his smothering mother; and Gadget Gal (Paula Pell), who can transform an everyday item like a spatula into a lethal weapon.
Prock’s most trusted ally is Muscleman (Ike Barinholtz, The Mindy Project), his super-strong yet dimwitted best friend, who tries to help Prock build popular public support for his new team in the face of more headline-friendly competition from charismatic Awesomes alum Perfect Man (Josh Meyers, Seth’s brother).
The most valuable member of the voice cast, no surprise, turns out to be the brilliant Bill Hader as archvillain Dr. Malocchio, a nefarious master of mind control, but otherwise, the actors – which also include Rashida Jones from Parks and Recreation – are at the mercy of material that seems to have been dashed off during an SNL lunch break. There are some funny performers here, but they can’t work miracles with desperately tired jokes, which are the rule rather than the exception in the two-part pilot currently available on Hulu.
It’s possible that The Awesomes will get better over time – Hulu has ordered 10 episodes for this first season – but I’m not optimistic. What I’ve seen so far is just lazy, unspired and self-indulgent, as if the show were a mere vanity project. I can’t for the life of me see what there is to be vain about here, however.
Perfect Man and Mr. Awesome