"Welcome to Sweden." Shot in Sweden, with subtitles and two Poehlers, "Welcome to Sweden" is the freshest thing to happen to broadcast comedy since "Modern Family."
Loosely based on creator Greg Poehler’s life, the story follows Bruce (Poehler), a well-meaning, slightly goofy accountant who quits his job and follows his Swedish girlfriend, Emma, (Josephine Bornebusch, who is also a co-writer) to her homeland. There he makes all manner of mildly mortifying mistakes in scenarios that send up the cultural tics of both nations (Swedes are reserved, Americans over-friendly) while more carefully exploring the nature of love.
That it is executive-produced by Greg's sister Amy certainly doesn't hurt either. As luck, and smart-thinking, would have it, "Bruce" was an accountant to the stars, allowing Amy to make guest appearances and invite some of her friends, including Will Ferrell and Aubrey Plaza, to do the same.
Their presence certainly reminds us that it's a good time to be a Poehler, while adding a few pop cultural winks to the tale. But "Welcome to Sweden" remains essentially a sweet, smart and quickly addictive cross-cultural romantic comedy that has top notes of satire, but mostly a brave and true heart. NBC, Thursdays, 9 p.m.
"Extant." Halle Berry comes to television as Molly Wood, a near-future astronaut who, after 13 months alone in space, returns home pregnant. How can it be? Well, clearly her less-than-straightforward boss (Michael O'Neill) has an idea -- certain patterns have been emerging from a portion of space, significant enough to interest a enigmatic billionaire and the United States government.
Back at home, Molly must come to grips with the impossible on many levels; the son she already has is, in fact, a high-production-value robot, invented by her husband, who believes -- all science fiction to the contrary -- that creating an alternative race to accompany humans in their journey is a good idea.
Produced by Steven Spielberg, "Extant" fits nicely into his canon, pressing against the limits of what we understand to question what actually exists. But it's Berry's show to make or break, with Molly providing the fulcrum between humanizing and hubris, between transcendence and disaster. CBS, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.
"The Strain." Amid the high-art strivings of television today, Guillermo del Toro's "The Strain" is a refreshing, if more than a little blood-spattered, return to the roots of horror.
After a flight from Berlin to New York lands with everyone on board apparently dead, an early-response team from the CDC, led by Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather (Corey Stoll) quickly suspects some strain of horrifying virus. If only they had paid more attention to the large wooden box covered with skeleton carvings and filled with worm-infested dirt. Before you can say, "Honestly, have you never read 'Dracula'?", four survivors begin exhibiting classic signs of vampirific transformation.