The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: a rare TV show that will change your life for the better

Very rare a TV show affects me anymore, of course. I have seen, simply, too many of them. I have seen every configuration of dating show and every possible ITV2 Love Island spin-off reality format. I’ve seen every Channel 4 property programme and every doomed BBC One attempt at a Saturday night light entertainment blockbuster. I was the person who watched every single British odd couple road trip show they made in the wake of Covid. I’ve seen those shows on Apple TV+ that even the executives at Apple TV+ forgot they commissioned (“Hold on, what’s this line on the balance sheet marked ‘Joseph Gordon-Levitt’? We paid him for that?”). Every brown-and-grey “the enemy is at the gates, my lord!” attempt at an epic franchise in the wake of Game of Thrones and all the spin-off stuff Prime has done since The Boys. TV can’t get me any more. I’m TV-proof. I cannot be swung by TV! My nervous system is too dulled!

But I do have to concede that W’s new US import, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (Thursday, 9pm), did make me go round my office with a bin bag and not stop until I’d filled it with detritus (as ever, the thought is: “how long have I been living surrounded by a bin bag full of detritus?”). It’s a simple remix of Marie Kondo’s massive Netflix hit from a couple of years ago, which you might remember from that weekend you got all weird and said goodbye to your old socks one by one. Based on a New York Times bestselling book, Death Cleaning … explains the Swedish philosophy of clearing your house out of all your collected crap well in time for your death, a sort of semi-holy ceremonial tidy-up that allows you to confront the end of your life in a pragmatic way as well as gift treasured items to those in your family who might remember you by them. It does not feel like you need to be dying to get something out of this, though: in truth, it’s just another self-help book that uses a load of quirky terms and umlauts to tell you to just – for goodness sake, come on! – tidy up your loft a bit, please.

But translated to TV, it’s a soft and fuzzy and brain-off delight, built in the mould of Netflix’s Queer Eye: three wholesomely cheerful Swedish death cleaners, all with Robot Wars-style nicknames, enter the home of a hoarding American and peer around in wonder. “Wow, you have so much stuff,” Johan, “the Designer”, might say. “Let us put this over here,” Katarina, “the Psychologist”, will suggest. “We will help you make this room … a useful kind of room,” Ella, “the Organiser”, will chirp. They’ll all go for a chic black coffee and talk about how the American in question would be happier if they just cried on camera exactly two times then threw away nine boxes full of stuff. Two days later they’ve painted three rooms, put a desk in, reframed some old photos that were in a box, and found an old outfit from when the person was young and cooed at how cool it is. Tears, hugs, an oddly touching feeling of relief. Is it breaking any new and exciting ground? No, obviously. But neither did Four in a Bed and I’ll still compulsively watch hours of that without moving on a particularly profound hangover.

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Amy Poehler executive produces and narrates this one, and I have to say it’s curious how little the role of “comedian who is always interrupting with a joke” works in an American accent compared to British contemporaries. “Cleaning out your crap so others don’t have to do it when you’re dead – it’s a very Swedish thing,” she explains, for the 90th time, within the first few minutes of this show. “You’ll get it!” No, I – yeah no I do get it. She watches the Swedes carry boxes downstairs with “the efficiency that can only come from a country that gives its healthcare away for free”. Have you ever been to a party where someone is desperately trying to land just one good joke, and every time they try they become more desperate and flailing to do it? Most people who have attended a party with me have seen this happen. Poehler is constantly doing this over the course of the hour, in a way that makes me have a whole new appreciation for Rob Beckett on Celebs Go Dating. Still: it doesn’t need to be funny if it made me take a bag of garbage downstairs to the big bin. Tack, Gentle Swedish Death Cleaners. May your lives be blessed with a constant supply of that horrible salted liquorice you inexplicably like.

The Guardian