Last night's episode of Welcome to Sweden, "Get a Job/Farthinder," shows hope for the NBC sitcom I so far have been mostly pooh-poohing. (My review after last week's third episode, not so optimistic: Maybe some things, some comedies are better off "Staying home"..)

The hope did not come from the guest appearance by Gene Simmons of Kiss, which is disappointingly gratuitous; by now is there anyone on this earth who has not seen Gene Simmons, and repeatedly at that? The one effective gag, Gene Simmons's suggestion that he be called "Gene Simmons" rather than "Gene," is unfortunately repeated reflexively by both Emma and Bruce with a certainty that comes from strict adherence to script.


This fourth episode is much more rewarding on a cerebral level than what we have seen until now--not that I am someone who does not on occasion enjoy potty humor like the next Swede and also many of the younger American generation who is getting over the Puritanical hang-ups of their parents and grandparents. On the other hand, I still failed to understand any humor derived from having to watch Bruce hurl over the railing of a boat during his short-term employment as a tourist guide on the waters of Stockholm (I don't know how they create artificial vomit and get it all on film; slow motion must be part of the director's and cinematographer's art). Perhaps Bruce's act can more charitably be interpreted as commentary on the impossibility of the entire project of Welcome to Sweden succeeding.

What brought a smile to my face was the "discussion" of humor in "Get a Job/Farthinder." While I would not go so far as to call it meta-humor, this episode, including the word "farthinder" in the title, explains why the show fails to resonate with audiences on both sides of the big pond and cannot, ever, fully resonate.

Humor is easily lost in translation; different cultures, despite American showbiz flooding the world, still do not readily draw on allusions and a complete cultural context of each other. Case in point: Greg Poehler's capable portrayal of Bruce as the Ugly American in this episode. Most Swedish viewers will recognize this behavior and find it to be "American" and funny. Many of the mainstream audience in America will not get the allusions to the Ugly American, beautifully sprinkled throughout "Get a Job/Farthinder." There is a speed bump, an obstacle, to allow the comedy of Welcome to Sweden to be sufficiently appreciated unless one has lived in both cultures, in the case of which there is also the danger of knowing so much about both cultures that some of the comedic behavior appears as a form of over- and self-indulgence, an over-explanation of the obvious, which makes for a marred overall viewing experience.

Performances by Swedish bit players in this episode, especially the driving school office lady (Ingela Olsson) and the Arbetsförmedlingen clerk (Sten Elfström), are illustrative of the farthinder that is in the way of complete appreciation. When Bruce, shocked at the price of SEK 10,000 to obtain his driver's license, tells the lady, "Does it come with a happy ending," many Swedes will not pick up on that reference. When the lady delivers the line, "Yes, if you pass the test," straight- and duty-faced, Americans will think this is a funny line, and more sophisticated viewers will know that the delivery of the last line prevents the scene from being completely sophomoric humor.

The clerk at Arbetsförmedlingen, shopworn and frustrated beyond belief, will appeal more to Swedish viewers, especially his utterance in Swedish, more than once, of how much he hates his job. When Bruce appears to be willing to find employment in his field and the clerk delivers the line, "Sweden needs accountants," summoning a sudden cheerfulness out of character with his dour demeanor, that extra layer of humor is for the Swedish audience to savor more than the American. Swedish and American employment/unemployment offices are very dissimilar and make for impossible translation.

Bruce's driving lesson with his Iraqi friend Hassan (Basim Sabah Albasim), which features the titular "farthinder," both as a real road sign and also discussion as to whether the word is funny or not, takes on the obstacle head-on of whether comedy can be funny across cultures: Hassan tells Bruce a joke about telling time and both men have a different interpretation as to why the joke might be considered funny. Add to this Hassan's admonishment of Bruce, "You are a very very very bad driver," and Bruce's comeback, "You are a very very very bad comedian," and we know the impossible battle that Welcome to Sweden is fighting. It does not appear to be a show written with enough finesse to cross cultural boundaries sufficiently so that viewers in Sweden and the U.S. can both enjoy the show on a level playing field.

The captain (Mats Andersson) of the little ship that offers tours of Stockholm by water sums up the problem with things being lost in translation perfectly. After Bruce has learned the captain's name, Sixten, insisting it's funny because it is like six and ten, and the captain maintains that it is not funny, Bruce asks the captain why they have seasickness pills on board if no one gets seasick. The captain's reply, "You have a good humor," shows the awkwardness of idiom of a comedy losing something in the water between Sweden and America, and I would like to think it is not the vomit of Bruce the accountant.

Ulf Kirchdorfer
My initial review: To be funny or not .. therein lies the rub.