Whereas the discomfort in “Scrapbook/Skidresa” reads as one-sided, its follow-up, “Parental Guidance/Svartsjuk” is the first episode of season two to really lean into Welcome To Sweden’s knack for discomfort comedy. Naturally, the second coming of Nancy and Wayne brings a lot of dysfunction to the table. There’s a darkness to Welcome To Sweden that’s not always at the surface. “Parental Guidance/Svartsjuk” deep-dives into that darkness with its rather grim outlook on relationships, building on what Viveka and Birgir dig up on the ski trip last episode.
Overall, it’s a pretty funny episode that relies on a very simple setup to sell most of the humor. Bruce’s parents want to fund Bruce and Emma’s wedding, but only if they get married in the States. Bruce warns Emma that his parents always have a way of getting what they want, setting up the back-and-forth game of Bruce and Emma versus Wayne and Nancy that dominates the front half of the episode. The writers don’t need to introduce any over-the-top elements to this game; it works because it’s both believable and simple, the kind of everyday humor that can sometimes be difficult to capture on television because of its subtleties. Even just watching Emma work through the decision to tell Wayne and Nancy that her father’s health prevents them from leaving the country is fun. But Josephine Bornebusch’s best moment in the episode happens when Emma’s the one to switch from conniving to sad, finally falling for Wayne’s ploy to get them to marry in the United States.
Bruce’s hot-headedness last episode makes a lot of sense and also seems largely innocuous when compared to the arrogance and male entitlement of his father. Wayne has been portrayed as a garbage human ever since he was introduced on the show last season, and here, he shows no sign of growth. “Men have a natural sense of direction,” he condescendingly tells Nancy when the two are lost in the streets of Sweden. And the look of sheer horror on Wayne’s face when Birgir asks him to wash dishes only confirms that Wayne believes strongly in gender roles. Bruce has part of that in him, though not quite as pronounced.
Sometimes, I bristle at the way Bruce and Emma’s relationship is portrayed. It can sometimes seem like Bruce is just this stubborn man-child who Emma just sort of has to put up with. Wayne and Nancy take that discomfort to a whole new level. Birgir, at least, doesn’t enforce gender roles as strictly as Wayne and Bruce do. While there’s less of a gendered power dynamic between Birgir and Viveka, Birgir can be a bit of a man-child himself, refusing to just tell Viveka outright that he has been sabotaging the open houses for their summer cottage because he still doesn’t want to sell. The relationships on Welcome To Sweden are bitingly real in how prickly they can get, but that realness isn’t what bothers me—in fact, as I’ve said before, authenticity is the show’s strength. It’s just that sometimes, even though Birgir may love washing dishes, the show portrays the men as the mess makers and the women as the mess cleaners, and while I don’t think Welcome To Sweden is saying anything necessarily harmful about gender, it can just feel a little static.
Of course, the effect of Wayne and Nancy’s presence is that Bruce and Emma become a united front for really the first time all season. They’ve had their own relationship issues, but they’re fully functional and on the same page in their efforts to combat Wayne and Nancy’s manipulations. They have to be. It’s nice to see Bruce and Emma in this mode, because I was starting to forget what they look like when they are good together. Greg Poehler and Bornebusch’s natural chemistry, finally, comes through here.
- “This is the worst ordeal I’ve faced since I gave birth to my big-headed son.”
- I could have watched Nancy speaking her fake Swedish as Viveka and Emma squirm for at least another five minutes. That kind of uncomfortable, tension-dependent humor is where Welcome To Sweden thrives.
- But the absolute funniest, and most believable, part of the episode happens in the tag, when Wayne tells Nancy she can’t pack bread in her suitcase. The bread in Scandinavia is so superior to American bread, that her impulse to stuff an entire loaf in her bag is 100 percent correct (honestly, any bread outside of America is better than American bread; American bread is busted).
- “It’s white and beautiful…and white.” Viveka’s attempts to be a fount of positivity are so feeble and yet so wonderful.
- With all the men behaving so immaturely in “Parental Guidance/Svartsjuk”—well, Bruce is on his better behavior, but he was annoying enough in “Scrapbook/Skidresa” to carry through—it’s ironic that Sweden’s Number One Man-Child Gustov was nowhere to be seen.
- I would have liked to hear exactly what Viveka was going to say during everyone’s honesty confessions before Emma, wisely, cuts her off.