You probably don’t need to be told that doing a TV series version of the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral is inherently a bad idea. But what if, under the minuses column, said series felt more like a distant cousin than a remake or a reimagining and was a clumsy mess of predictability, broad stereotypes, forced dramatic situations and saccharine touches?
Not exactly tantalizing — but with the bar so low for some people’s willingness to enjoy a rom-com, maybe Hulu thought even something watered down would work.
The first obstacle, of course, is overcoming comparisons to the original and the next immediate one is wondering why anyone bothered, since this distant-cousin version seems to be barely connected, conceptually, to the movie.
Mindy Kaling’s love of rom-coms clearly led her to targeting one of the best, so it’s probably not surprising that she fell well short (the film was penned by Richard Curtis, who proved to be something of a master of the form as he went on to write Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, the latter of which he also directed). Even with Curtis’ name attached here as executive producer, there’s no leftover sheen or innovation magically helping this American mess.
Kaling and Matt Warburton (The Mindy Project) created this for television and wrote the first two episodes, with Charles McDougall directing. The series starts off in a boggle and never really resets, flitting around trying to find both tone and purpose. Any ties to the film are…remote.
In fact, Hulu might owe the Brits an apology not only for clumsily trying to get a lift from one of its most crowd-pleasing rom-coms, but for making a mockery of the British themselves — particularly the women, who come off as catty, classist and utterly terrible. But unfortunately (and surprisingly) many of the women in this version of Four Weddings and a Funeral, both British and American, come off as weak or clueless, entitled, bored or dim-witted.
The concept starts with Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel, Game of Thrones) playing an American political speech writer who is sleeping with the senatorial candidate she’s working for (Tommy Dewey of Casual, in a guest turn) and rooting for him to dump his wife — in the middle of a campaign, no less. The series wants us to not only believe that a politician would do that (he doesn’t, partly because one of Maya’s speeches gives him a three-point bump in the polls and now he could win) but also that Maya is the victim when, a year later, he does get separated because he was cheating with someone else on staff.
Maya goes to London, where three of her best friends from college now inconceivably live and work, because one of them, Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse, The Mindy Project), is getting married. Ainsley is marrying Kash (Nikesh Patel, Indian Summers), who just happens to be the cute guy Maya meets as she arrives at Heathrow and loses her bag — the first in a series of rom-com misadventures/meet-cutes that seem utterly forced.
Also in London is Duffy (John Reynolds, Stranger Things), a wanna-be novelist teaching English who has had a thing for Maya for a decade; and Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith, You’re the Worst), who works with Kash at a financial institution and is otherwise mostly a ladies man willing to admit he loves his dumb Brit girlfriend, Zara (Sophia La Porta), until — this being a rom-com — he finds out he fathered a daughter five years ago and that is complicating matters.
Outside of Kash, nobody here is particularly likeable even though we’re clearly supposed to find their struggles and friendship endearing (mostly they’re trite and/or cloyingly sentimental). Maya’s surprised that British politicians seem to know she slept with the American senator and think they might have a chance as well if they hire her; she’s also annoyed that it might be perceived that she slept her way to the top.
Ainsley is rich and spoiled and leads an Instagram-perfect life in London until her mom (a cameo from Andie MacDowell, one of the few and random connections to the movie in the first three episodes) cuts off her money. Craig is…something? His “relationship” with Zara is a plot drain and while his newfound daughter gives him some perspective, Smith isn’t given enough to become a fully formed character. Duffy is supposed to be the lovable loser but is mostly clueless and sometimes selfishly annoying. Again, there’s not much here except a lot of bad writing, clichés, “twists” you see coming and a collection of people acting like, well, hollow characters in a rom-com and not actual people you’ve seen or want to root for. Some of that is aggravated by actors playing British snobbery to the hilt, as in Ainsley’s rich friend Gemma (played by Zoe Boyle).
Ah, but weirdly and surprisingly, there actually is a completely different series hidden inside Four Weddings and a Funeral. Kash is the most fully-formed and believable of the bunch and Patel is able to make each scene he’s in seem grounded and real. The British-Indian actor plays a Pakistani investment banker whose first love is acting but — since his mother has died and his health-challenged father (Harish Patel) has a meager job at Heathrow — really needs to keep his day job.
Once Kash and Ainsley split — at the altar, of course — and we’re boringly shown how she didn’t really know him, there’s not a ton of future space for Kash, it would seem. Even though his reason for not loving Ainsley (he was always playing someone else to fit in with societal and class norms) is much more believable — a relatable storyline with a purpose. Four Weddings and a Funeral could ultimately end up finding more for Kash to do, but after three episodes it feels as if Kash and his family have somehow crashed into a rom-com when they might have been more happy in a drama.
Instead, they are stuck inside of this rom-com, which exists for reasons not entirely clear.
Cast: Nathalie Emmanuel, Nikesh Patel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Brandon Mychal Smith, John Reynolds, Zoe Boyle, Sophia La Porta, Jamie Demetriou
Created for television and written by: Mindy Kaling, Matt Warburton
Directed by: Charles McDougall
Premieres: Wednesday (Hulu)