Is loving romantic comedies reason enough to turn one of the best rom-coms of the ‘90s into a television series on Hulu? That’s one of several questions surrounding the high-profile (is it a re-imagining, a reboot, an homage?) 10-episode Four Weddings and a Funeral series from co-creator and executive producer Mindy Kaling. The writer, director, actor, and unabashed rom-com fan has teamed with executive producer Richard Curtis (the writer of the original film, as well as staples in the rom-com genre, like Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridgett Jones’s Diary, and more) to develop what is a workable and often likable ensemble comedy that earns a passing grade, but struggles to transform the ideas of the original film in significant enough ways to become essential TV viewing.
Reboots and revivals are all over television nowadays, and though Four Weddings and a Funeral isn’t exactly one or the other, it is nevertheless a known quantity (or, in other words, it’s pre-existing IP), which suggests it comes with a built-in audience. And yet, watching the series, the first four episodes of which premiere on Hulu on Wednesday, July 31 before releasing weekly thereafter, it’s difficult to tell just who this series is intended for. While the idea of it will likely appeal to fans of the genre, especially now that Hollywood has all but remanded romantic comedies to streaming services like Netflix, while also attracting those who love the original film, the new series somehow fumbles its attempt to fully satisfying or the other.
On paper, Four Weddings and a Funeral looks great. It boasts a talented and likable cast that includes Nathalie Emmauel (Game of Thrones), Rebecca Rittenhouse (Into the Dark), Brandon Mychal Smith (You’re the Worst), John Reynolds (Search Party, Stranger Things), Nikesh Patel (London Has Fallen), and more. Yet, despite the agreeability of its cast and its occasionally funny writing, the project ultimately winds up hamstrung by all the ways in which it isn’t that which it purports to be. That is, as a nearly 10-hour television series, Four Weddings and a Funeral isn’t really a traditional romantic comedy, and despite the title and the narrative structure it's drawing from, the series is also not Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Instead, Kaling’s version plays out more like a sitcom from the ‘90s — Coupling and Friends come immediately to mind — albeit one that takes full advantage of the diminished time and content constraints on streaming platforms. It’s not hard, then, to surmise that one of the biggest issues facing Four Weddings and a Funeral is it length. With most episodes clocking in at a TV hour (between 42-44 minutes, usually), the series bucks the most obvious sitcom convention, and in doing so, creates the first impediment to its overall watchability. After consuming the first four hours of young, beautiful people scurrying about London, following their hearts or having them broken, there’s no one thing in particular imploring the audience to continue watching, aside from the desire to see the series through to the end.
There are highlights, to be sure. Emmanuel, for one, is exceedingly charming as Maya, a young political speech writer who travels to London in the wake of a messy affair with her boss, played by Casual’s Tommy Dewey. She arrives overseas for the wedding of her best friend and American expat, Ainsley (Rittenhouse), who is due to marry the charming Kash (Patel) a banker with dreams of becoming an actor. She’s also back in the fold of her old college friends, all Americans who, for some reason or another, all moved to London to pursue careers they presumably could have had in the U.S.
The setting is, like the show’s existence, just one of those frustratingly unanswerable questions that hangs like a fog over every scene. It helps, then, that the cast has a few standout performers to assuage such concerns. The sizable ensemble makes good use of both Rittenhouse and Reynolds, and it offers Smith a chance to be as funny as he was in You’re the Worst, while letting him tap into material that’s less exaggerated. Meanwhile, Four Weddings and a Funeral finds delightful characters in Zoe Boyle’s Gemma, a seemingly spoiled housewife with too much money and time on her hands, as well as Sophia La Porta’s Zara, who is, on the face of it all, a vapid, materialistic young woman with little to offer her boyfriend, Craig (Smith). The real pleasure, though, has to be Kash’s forgotten schoolmate Guz Kahn, who is infectiously amiable in every scene.
The series’ diverse cast is a welcome change from the original film, one that is handled in a way that thankfully feels meaningful, as much of Kash’s story involves an exploration of what it means to be Pakistani and Muslim in London in 2019. The push-pull that of cultural tradition and modernity that Kash must contend with is perhaps the most significant thread the series brings to the table, one that, it could be argued, comes closest to giving the show a reason for being.
Though it may well charm fans of romantic comedies looking for a way to satisfy their genre cravings on a weekly basis, Four Weddings and a Funeral lacks the sort of urgency and inventiveness that might otherwise have made it a must-see show for 2019. Instead, the series settles for beinggood enough, and easily becomes one more TV show people will or won’t watch this year.
Four Weddings and a Funeral premieres Wednesday on Hulu.