After many were ready to proclaim their untimely death, romantic comedies have resurrected with a vengeance. “Crazy Rich Asians” was a cultural and box office sensation, and Netflix has struck gold with a series of low-stakes movies that subsequently created an entire cottage industry that runs on earnest charm and flirty banter. Combine that burgeoning success with Hollywood’s beloved “everything old is new again” ethos and it was probably only a matter of time before we got something like Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” a shiny new adaptation of one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time.
The limited anthology series from Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton — the team behind “The Mindy Project,” a sitcom love letter to the rom-com genre — isn’t a reboot of Richard Curtis’ 1994 film. It rather just uses its premise of a group of friends weathering four weddings and a funeral together (for better and for worse), as a basic structure for their own perfectly pleasant stories. It’s also still based in London for seemingly no reason other than nostalgia; all four of the main characters are American Anglophiles who returned to the U.K. after spending a transformative semester there in college.
Now facing down the other side of 30, the hapless in love and life friends are trying to figure out what it is they really want from life, and if it’s so wildly different from the paths they’ve otherwise chosen. Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel) is an ambitious congressional aide with terrible timing and taste in men. Investment banker Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith) has found himself living large with a ton of money and a brash live-in girlfriend (Sophia La Porta) after years of playing the field; harried teacher Duffy (John Reynolds) has nursed a debilitating crush on Maya for a solid decade. Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse) is a picture perfect blonde with the Notting Hill townhouse and handsome boyfriend Kash (Nikesh Patel) to match, and it’s her extravagant wedding (or more accurately, its aftermath) that sets everything into motion.
They’re all, in other words, deliberate rom-com stock characters that the show hopes to flesh out over the course of ten episodes, a downright luxurious amount of time versus the movie’s two-hour runtime. The show doesn’t radically flip the script so much as tweak it in slightly more three-dimensional directions; even the typical conceited rival role, embodied this time in Ainsley’s competitive British friend Gemma (Zoe Boyle), gets to stretch beyond the confines of her stereotype. It is, however, worth noting that 2019’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is somehow overall more heterosexual than 1994’s, which included a groundbreaking moment in which one friend gives a eulogy for the man he loved. Rather than taking the opportunity to make that subtext text, the TV version makes the odd and frankly disappointing choice to keep its incidental queer characters on the outer margins of the story.
So while this “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is purposefully distinct from its source material, the inevitable comparisons both work for and against it. On the plus side, Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” establishes itself as different from the original by the sheer fact of its casting not being entirely white. Kash’s storyline in particular is one that Curtis’ movies would — or could — never touch, and Patel reveals himself to be an able lead even as Kash is often isolated from the other characters. Emmanuel, who revealed a capacity for comic timing even in her usually dour “Game of Thrones” role, clearly relishes the chance to anchor her own story and seizes the opportunity with palpable enthusiasm. Rittenhouse and Reynolds are endearing in often flat roles, though they’re rarely a match for Smith, who steals just about every scene he’s in.
The trouble comes as the show tries to sell the camaraderie and fiercely loyal bond between the characters, which should be the glue that keeps the show together. Instead, the sporadic times they all share the screen rarely spark in the way that the joyfully chaotic group scenes of the first “Four Weddings and a Funeral” did. We hear an awful lot about what good friends they are without the series doing much to sell it. It’s perfectly nice to spend a few hours with them, but they’re not likely to make a huge impression beyond their inevitably happy endings.
Limited series, 60 mins. (10 episodes; 7 watched for review.) Premieres Wednesday, July 31 on Hulu.