TV Review: RSVP No to Hulu’s ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’

Remake fatigue has moved to TV. Since it was announced, the idea of a “Four Weddings and a Funeral” miniseries remake seemed a tad bit unnecessary. The involvement of Mindy Kaling as creator and executive producer inspired some confidence. Though Kaling has made a career out of her unabashed love for romantic comedies, there’s little to love about her “Four Weddings and a Funeral” on Hulu. Co-created by Matt Warburton, the series bears little resemblance to the 1994 Best Picture nominee of the same name. With bland characters, slow pacing and jokes that land with a thud, one quickly longs for the flirtations of Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell.

Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel) travels to England for the wedding of her best friend Ainsley Howard (Rebecca Rittenhouse), whom she met during study abroad in college. Comparatively, Maya’s love life has been primarily occupied by her married politician boss (Tommy Dewey). While at the airport, Maya hits it off with Kash (Nikesh Patel), a dashing investment banker who dreams of becoming an actor. After a brief “Mamma Mia” centric flirtation, Maya heads to her friends, wondering if she will ever see Kash again. Their reunion comes quicker than they think once Maya shows up at Ainsley’s engagement party and realizes Kash is Ainsley’s fiancee. 

Hoping for more romantic complication, don’t worry, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” has plenty more in store for you. Maya and Ainsley have two other core friends in their friend group. No romantic comedy would be complete without the “nerd” who longs for our leading lady despite not having any qualities that would make him a suitable match for her. This role gets filled by Duffy (John Paul Reynolds), a school-teacher that dreams of being a novelist. Wondering why pining on the sidelines hasn’t worked out for him for ten years, Duffy more closely resembles a men’s rights activist than a charming romantic foil. When he finds a fellow teacher to potentially “settle” for, he makes a move by mansplaining his unwieldy novel to her. We’re expected to root for him to have a chance with Maya. Instead, we pray he keeps his distance.

The show makes the decision early on to focus on this love triangle between Maya, Cash and Duffy. Strangely enough, this becomes a love triangle where one wishes for all three parties involved to lose. Maya has very little chemistry with both of her would-be suitors. This potentially stems from the fact that her character never gets much definition. Emmanuel does what she can to broaden out her character’s political ambitions. Yet, her scenes with a gay right-wing politician are just another element that bogs down the story. With her friends, she trades stale pop culture references that range from groan worthy to head scratching. Patel makes it out best of the trio. His bright smile tries to sell through the romance, but he really excels when he shares scenes with his working class family.

Rounding out this thinly drawn friend group is Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith), a heartthrob who struggles with whether or not he can stand his seemingly shallow girlfriend, Zara (Sophia La Porta). Matters get even more complicated when Craig discovers he fathered a child five years prior with another woman. For those of you playing “Romantic Comedy Bingo” at home, someone might have just won with that cliche. 

This storyline does yield one of the strongest running jokes of the show. After their seemingly inevitable break-up, Zara goes on “Love Chalet” (a snow themed knock off of “Love Island”) and becomes a reality TV star. Zara’s quest for love makes her a national sensation. In addition, it reframes her in the narrative. Craig and his friends treated her like a shrill joke. Even the show loved to jeer at what seemed like a one-dimensional floozy. While many of those adjectives could theoretically describe Zara, she reminds us that doesn’t make her any less of a person.

Still, Zara isn’t the character that this new incarnation hates the most. Gemma (Zoe Boyle) plays up every stereotype as Ainsley’s country club frenemy. Though Gemma headlines the best episode of the show, the show stops short of giving her as full of an arc as she deserves. She shows up when it’s convenient for the narrative, but Gemma never becomes a fully formed character, even as Boyle works hard to make every moment count.

Kaling continues to be an interesting, talented screenwriting voice. Just this summer, her film “Late Night” took a fresh, hilarious and timely look at a late night writers’ room. This makes her Hulu series all the more frustrating. In many ways, it feels like a lobotomized knock off of “The Mindy Project,” her successful previous series. The romantic entanglements in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” wouldn’t feel out of place in “The Mindy Project.” Instead, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” sucks any bit of whimsy, joy or character that one might have found in the premise. All three of those qualities are usually examples of what Kaling excels at writing.

Mike Newell’s Oscar-nominated 1994 film “Four Weddings and a Funeral” pulled off a sly magic trick. In under two hours it managed to untangle the dating exploits of seven friends during a year and a half period. Similar classic romantic comedies such as “Annie Hall” or “When Harry Met Sally” spanned years and decades all in under ninety minutes. Hulu’s miniseries stretches even less plot over the eight hour long episodes that were up for review. Over eight hours, we watch the same emotional beats repeated over and over again. Even worse, we never end up liking the characters enough to have a bit of fun.

“Four Weddings and a Funeral” premieres on Hulu beginning Wednesday, July 31st. Eight episodes were screened for this review.

GRADE: (★½)

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