Things get lost in translation, they say, and we are sometimes the better for it. In the case of Pop's new "Swedish Dicks," a private-eye comedy set and filmed in Los Angeles and at the same time imported from Sweden, where it has already aired, one feels that an imperfect knowledge of the English language and the United States might improve the viewing experience, from the title forward.
That is to say, it might help to be Swedish, or just not American. I had no such advantage.
Peter Stormare, a Swedish actor who has appeared in myriad American movies and television series over many years — memorably, he was the killer in the original "Fargo" and the Russian cosmonaut in “Armageddon” — plays Ingmar, a movie stuntman turned gone-to-seed private detective after the death of his best friend and colleague, Tex. Keanu Reeves, wielding a Tex-appropriate accent, plays his ghost, and is indeed a more ephemeral presence than his inclusion in the opening credits suggests. But Reeves is a movie star, and he is in this show; it's only natural to push those shy little facts to the front of the stage.
In the first episode, which premieres Wednesday Ingmar is hired to retrieve what he is told is a stolen laptop, though he will eventually discover he has been sent to swipe it from its rightful owner. A semi-successful DJ, Axel (Johan Glans) is also Swedish as it happens and, like Ingmar, less than happy with his life. In nearly every other respect they are polar opposites, an Oscar and a Felix, a dog and a cat. Ingmar finds Axel irritating and Axel, a chatty ray of sunshine, just wants Ingmar to love him.
"You're honest and you're straightforward, but you're tough, like a dad," Axel tells Ingmar. "I never knew my father, do you want to be my dad?" He is drunk when he says this.
Naturally, they become partners. (That Axel was also the name of Eddie Murphy's character in "Beverly Hills Cop" is perhaps not a coincidence.) Ingmar has a hint of a death wish – not much of one, seemingly, given how often he might fulfill it and doesn't – which Axel tries to allay by sending mariachis to his door, and also a man dressed as a robot who begs Ingmar not to kill himself.
Like many entertainments from other lands, it seems to belong to a different time as well, a time when things that are meant to be funny here may have been funnier. There is what used to be known as dialect humor, and some humor involving a blind man, and a rat hit with a rock. "The money or your testicles" is a gag line. There are jokes about urinating in a bottle and defecating in one's pants – which is not unusual humor in 2017, but it has been done better.
There is a reference to Swedish fish and the fact that they are not Swedish, but on the whole remarkably little is made of Scandinavian culture or personalities. Again, it seems likely that the show was designed more to make jokes about America for Swedes than to make jokes about Swedes for Americans – though you will learn that until 2014 it was legal there for a person to have sex with an animal; I have done the research and it's a fact.
I would like to find "Swedish Dicks" funnier than I do because, the odd burst of tastelessness notwithstanding, it is fundamentally good-hearted and there is something to be said for a good heart in a wicked world. (It is possible even to see that as the series' theme.) There are some nice performances not only among the principals but some guest and bit players, including Traci Lords as the proprietor of "the No. 1 investigative firm in Los Angeles," who for some reason finds it worthwhile to take the time to hunt Ingmar out and give him grief. ("I see you've been shopping for extremely gay cardigans at H&M" is a thing she says to him; he is wearing a fringe jacket.)
Even when real people fail to emerge – and they are in no hurry to – there are entertaining attitudes and line readings. It's not impossible that the characters and their relationships will ripen as the series moves through its 10-episode first season – a second is already on order, so nothing I say here will do it any harm. That is something that often happens in comedy, if you have the time to wait.
When: 8 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd