A funny, fresh detective comedy is tough to do in any language. Many shows have tried to infuse the sordid world of cheap private investigators with some offbeat humor, but “Swedish Dicks,” the latest attempt, co-created and starring Peter Stormare, bases its story in L.A. with an international and bilingual twist.
Stormare plays Ingmar, a broke ex-Hollywood stuntman who opens up an unusually affordable detective agency. Working out of a nondescript downtown L.A. office, one particular job brings fellow Swedish ex-pat Axel (Johan Glans) into his professional orbit. After the two narrowly escape the clutches of a particularly twisty gig, they go into business together. Operating under an agency with the same name as the show’s title, these two Swedes handle their client’s unconventional requests wherever in the city they might lead.
It’s not necessarily a requirement for TV detectives to be especially good at their jobs, but Ingmar feels woefully unequipped to handle the tasks that he’s given. Given that Axel is an inexperienced newbie in this process himself, having two bumbling P.I.s at the center of the story makes the whole thing feel aimless more often than not.
That listlessness translates into the show’s tone as well. Glans is a goofy delight when Axel ventures out on his own, as he is when infiltrating a one-house Hollywood cult. But when mashed up against Stormare, who rarely plays his half of the team straight, it just feels like a jangly cacophony of weirdness without much forward movement. “Swedish Dicks” overcompensates in a few different areas, particularly in agency staff member Sun (Vivian Bang) and antagonistic competitor Jane (Traci Lords): These interactions and subplots feel lifted from the kind of movies that Ingmar worked on in his former job. It’s a fun idea, but it works less in practice.
All the familiar subgenre tropes of the detective story are here: suspicious spouses, investigators trying to leave their past behind, new partner that’s not the best fit. When the show lets the jokes come from the inherent absurdity of chasing down L.A.’s weirdest bounties, it makes for a less stilted form of comedy. Ingmar chasing down a parole skipper or stumbling onto a backroom organized crime outfit is compelling when it feels like there are real consequences to whether or not he succeeds in his task.
But for every moment when Ingmar seems close to a breakthrough, “Swedish Dicks” burdens him with a conveniently timed call or some wacky physical humor that distract from the rest of the show. (One egregious dustup between the Swedish Dicks and a notable rival makes particularly unnecessary use of a recycled water bottle.) In many ways, the show is a spiritual companion to “Brockmire,” another series with a very talented performer at its center that doesn’t let the natural tiny absurdities of an unconventional career stand on their own.
Yet, “Swedish Dicks” still has one ray of hope in the form of Keanu Reeves. Though he only appears for the briefest of moments, his presence and giddy deliveries of southern twang pep talks are at that ideal intersection between heightened genre riffing and a dash of needed pathos. As the spectral memory of Ingmar’s deceased stuntman partner Tex, Reeves is the kind of anchoring force that the rest of the scenes without him are in search of.
Aside from this occasional guest star, there’s more prospects for this series as it hones in on what sets it apart. The downtown L.A. setting gives “Swedish Dicks” the opportunity to tell stories that series set in the eastern-most parts of the city rarely address. Axel and Ingmar’s bilingual verbal spats also provide a road into a new kind of immigration story. “Swedish Dicks” has some things working in its favor, but if it continues to pile on the parts that feel less natural, there’ll be fewer reasons for viewers to take on any new cases.
“Swedish Dicks” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Pop.