Hulu’s “Four Weddings and A Funeral” begins the exact same way as the 1994 film, with a madly panicked “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” dash out of the house by someone who egregiously overslept.
But from that point forward, Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton’s show takes on a life of its own. The titular four weddings and a funeral will happen, of course, and there are plenty of homages to the rom-com classic sprinkled throughout the show, but the story that unfolds bears little resemblance to the Hugh Grant-Andie MacDowell dorks-in-love Best Picture nominee.
Interior decorator Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse), school teacher Duffy (John Reynolds), and finance whiz Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith) are a trio of Americans that wind up moving to London after college graduation; the action opens when their pal, Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrives to join them on the other side of the pond. Kaling’s long-professed love for romantic comedies takes the quartet through a number of classic set-ups: The meet cute! The attractive stranger! The lovelorn guy stuck in the friendzone! The letter written, but not sent! The well-intentioned but overbearing relatives with one eye always on the altar!
All of this unfolds predictably, but the sharp writing keeps it from descending into trope and the production design has enough eye candy to remain fresh. Yes, a wedding attendee forgets the paper where her reading is written. But then she starts vamping with the lyrics to “Gangsta’s Paradise” to fill the time to a packed cathedral. Yes, someone is greeted at the airport with a series of oversized white cards with written messages a la “Love Actually.” But the cards also contain a cutout of a douche advertisement directed at the character’s rat bastard ex.
Besides the laughs, the show also is quietly revolutionary in its matter-of-fact approach to marginalized communities, as London’s ethnic and religious diversity is fully explored. It’s a definite improvement over its film namesake, which although earning plaudits at the time for its inclusion of deaf and gay characters, featured the most absurdly color-drained version of England imaginable.
Despite this, and even with MacDowell’s weirdly atonal performance as a behatted robot, the original film holds up and it is easy to see why Kaling is inspired by it. Richard Curtis’ dialogue is still crackly, self-deprecating perfection, Hugh Grant becomes HUGH GRANT before your eyes, and the supporting cast of Grade A+ British eccentrics remains lovable. It also bumbles and sparkles through four weddings and a funeral in under two hours.
And that’s where Kaling and Warburton’s version stumbles. Not following the precise path of the movie is fine, but quirky characters should be condiments because they are tough to digest as a main course. With 10 hours to get through the events promised in the title, the inordinate amount of time that is required to be spent with the eccentrics in the Hulu version causes them to veer into unlikeable and off-putting territory.
Duffy is an aggravatingly self-absorbed, self-pitying character who gets his comeuppance about five episodes too late; all goodwill has been lost by that point and, frankly, he kind of comes across as an incel-adjacent. Zara (Sophia La Porta), a fame-obsessed Influencer wannabe could have remained a diverting discount retailer named leitmotif on the margins of the story; when she moves into the spotlight for several episodes, it only serves as an extended reminder that fame-obsessed Influencer wannabes should not claim centerstage.
It’s particularly enervating when so many of the other main characters offer so much to the storyline. Emmanuel is sharp, funny, and endearingly tortured as Maya; Rittenhouse is a spirited rom-com bestie par excellence as Ainsley; Nikesh Patel as finance jock Kash, in true Mr. Darcy fashion, is winning despite making a tremendously unsympathetic choice at the outset. When they are on the screen the show works. When they are not, it falters.
“Four Weddings and A Funeral” was billed at the outset as an anthology; in theory, the next season will offer new characters and their romantic entanglements surrounding some of life’s biggest formal ceremonies. For successive storylines, one hopes the evolution of “Four Weddings” can double as dating advice: Stick with the good guys, and limit your exposure to the bad.
“Four Weddings and A Funeral” will premiere Wednesday, July 31 with four episodes; new episodes will be available weekly after that.