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3 new comedies: Swedes, screaming and satire

By Rob Owen
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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NBC - NBC
“Working the Engels” on NBC stars Andrea Martin as Ceil Engel.

Two new NBC comedies, “Welcome to Sweden” (9 p.m. Thursdays) and “Working the Engels” (9:30 p.m. Thursdays) could not be more different.

“Sweden” is a quiet, gently amusing comedy; “Engels” is loud and brash with occasional funny bits peeking through a pat, wan premise.

“Sweden” stars Greg Poehler as Bruce, a New York accountant who falls in love with a Swedish woman, Emma (Josephine Borenebusch), and moves to Sweden.

It’s a fish-out-of-water tale with English subtitles used when Emma’s family members are speaking in Swedish. That alone makes “Sweden” a rarity for a comedy on a broadcast network and probably a tough sell to some viewers.

With Andrea Martin (“SCTV”) as the star, there’s no question that “Engels” will be somewhat voluble. That’s just her style of comedy. But “Engels” also insists that every character is a broadly drawn screamer.

Occasionally that makes for funny bits – an argument over quotes and whether they come from “Star Wars” or the Bible is a hoot – but the show is otherwise exhausting.

Martin stars as Ceil Engel, who learns in the opening scene that her recently deceased husband left the family $200,000 in debt from his legal practice. She contemplates suicide, changes her mind, then accidentally falls off her roof, drawing all three children to her hospital bedside.

Responsible Jenna (Kacey Rohl) leaves her terrible law firm job to take over the family business, where Ceil will work as a paralegal.

Sandy (Azura Skye, “American Horror Story”), a born-again Christian who is recovering from drug addiction, will become the receptionist, and bad boy Jimmy (Ben Arthur) will be investigator. (What happened to the folks who previously did those jobs is not addressed in the pilot.)

Each character is introduced in a vignette that’s as amped-up as possible – Jenna doesn’t just have a weird roommate, she has a weird roommate who is always naked! The show never allows itself to stand down from ill-fated, continuous attempts at heightened hilarity.

‘Hotwives of Orlando’

Online streaming service Hulu.com debuts a promising spoof of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise with the seven-episode “Hotwives of Orlando” (July 15).

The premiere 23-minute episode is long on set-up as it mocks its characters and staged reality TV conventions. A second episode proves stronger and less predictably funny.

“This is Orlando: You go big or you go back to Kissimmee,” a party planner announces during the premiere.

Trophy wife Tawny (Casey Wilson, “Happy Endings”) gets into a fight with best friend Shauna (Danielle Schneider) when Tawny dares to tell Shauna to “calm down” during a party.

Devout but uneducated Christian Crystal (Angela Kinsey, “The Office”) shows up to a pimps and hos party in a revealing outfit that has to be constantly blurred, but it doesn’t stop her from passing judgment: “I really hope you don’t go to hell because you’re so pretty!” (When she runs into a friend at the store, Crystal declares, “If that’s not divine intervention, then I clearly don’t know what that means!”)

All the reality show archetypes are represented, including the woman who carries herself as classy but loves gutter humor and the token African-American hotwife who just has to tell it like it is, even if her pronouncements are unnecessarily mean. There’s also an oddball, Crystal’s sister, Amanda (Kristen Schaal, “Flight of the Conchords”), a child star in a local commercial for prune juice who’s never recovered from her fleeting fame.

Writers Dannah Phirman and Danielle Schneider know the material they’re mocking and do a great job of getting laughs out of the absurdities of the “Real Housewives” shows.

But sometimes the humor is dulled by the realization that while mockery can be fun, “Hotwives” still requires viewers to sit through “Housewives”-style inanity.

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