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Greg Poehler brings 'Welcome to Sweden' home, with help from sister Amy

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TORONTO - Greg Poehler says having a hit TV show in Sweden means getting a lot more awkward stares on the street.

"Basically my day consists of walking around the streets of Stockholm, just being stared at," he said with a laugh. "The people who come up and ask for pictures are generally immigrants or people who say, 'My husband is just like you!'"

In "Welcome to Sweden," Poehler gently pokes fun at the notorious politeness of Swedes, who generally consider it rude to talk to strangers. The half-hour comedy is a fish-out-of-water tale inspired by Poehler's own experiences moving to the land of blonds and meatballs.

The series, co-executive produced by his famous sister Amy, makes its North American debut Thursday on the Comedy Network and NBC. It follows Bruce Evans, a celebrity accountant who quits his job and moves to Stockholm to live with his girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch).

Poehler followed his own heart to Sweden in 2006 and has since married his Nordic beloved. But while his real in-laws welcomed him with open arms, Bruce gets tested by his girlfriend's bizarre family in the show.

"My transition into Swedish life was much easier," said Poehler in a phone interview. "In the first season, we tried to make it as difficult as possible for him. There's nothing compelling about a show where a guy moves and everything goes great."

Lena Olin ("Chocolat") plays Emma's sharp-tongued mother Viveka, who is appalled that Bruce hasn't learned a word of Swedish and has no immediate career plans. Meanwhile, Emma's younger brother Gustav (Christopher Wagelin) is a 28-year-old slacker who can do no wrong in Viveka's eyes.

Poehler said that he didn't plan for his sister to come on board as an executive producer. In fact, he said he only sent her the script so she could check the "font and size," because as a former lawyer he had no idea how to format it.

"You don't approach a family member and say, 'I have a TV idea.' I've seen that done at many of our Christmas parties by drunken uncles. So that really wasn't my intention," he said.

"I wanted her to look at it and tell me if it looked like a script... Then when she read it and said she really liked the idea and she wanted to help out, that to me was an early indication that maybe we had something really good here. I know she wouldn't put her name on something she didn't believe in."

Amy, three years older than Greg, has recurring appearances as one of Bruce's former celebrity clients. She plays a self-centred, nasty version of herself — replying "Thank you" when Bruce tells her, "You're really, really talented at not listening to people."

Comedy stars including Will Ferrell and Aubrey Plaza also pop up on the show. Plaza, known for her role alongside Amy on "Parks and Recreation," plays a psychotic stalker version of herself who is obsessed with Bruce.

"I would say Aubrey is closer to her real self than Amy is in their portrayals," said Greg with a laugh.

"One of the cool things about writing the show was that I got to write a fictionalized version of my sister that's pretty horrible. I made her kind of needy and bossy and compulsive and a little dumb. That's kind of a younger brother's revenge," he added.

"I think if you're an actor and you're asked to play yourself in a show, I think it's more interesting to play a more horrible or strange version of yourself.

"But Aubrey literally stalks me. That is 100 per cent true. That has been going on for years."

Poehler said that he and the three Swedes in the writer's room occasionally battled over jokes that would only play well to one side of the audience. The goal was to create universal humour, he said.

"In the course of writing the show, we made sure that every scene and line worked for all of us in the room," he said. "Of course, the danger in that process is being left with something that is watered down and isn't funny to anyone.

"But hopefully the upside to that, the opposite side of that coin, is a show that has really found situations that are relatable and funny to people in every country."

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