Mindy Kaling has turned her love of romantic comedies into a career. It’s factored into chapters of her books, and the romance was the best part of her sitcom The Mindy Project. Her latest project, Hulu’s adaptation of the rom-com classic Four Weddings And A Funeral, further plays to her strengths. Those five key events aside, the series doesn’t have much in common with the Hugh Grant/Andie MacDowell vehicle—though it does draw several other bows out of Cupid’s cinematic quiver.
Kaling goes behind the scenes this time, letting a younger cast take over to play an intertwined group of game-night-loving pals. Game Of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel and Indian Summers’ Nikesh Patel are Maya and Kash, our adorable star-crossed leads, kept cruelly (and annoyingly) apart by a variety of unfortunate circumstances and instances of bad timing. Rebecca Rittenhouse, who played a divorced doctor on The Mindy Project, appears to have de-aged herself by 20 years to play the effervescent Ainsley, Maya’s best friend. Brandon Mychal Smith (as Kash’s co-worker Craig) continues his successful post-Disney Channel transition after appearing in You’re The Worst. And between this series and Search Party, John Paul Reynolds appears to have cornered the market on playing the nice guy who doesn’t get the girl. Downton Abbey’s Zoe Boyle is a standout as Ainsley’s English best friend who’s pettily jealous of Maya, her American one.
Also drawing inspiration from the original, the series deals with American expatriates in London, although in a setting that appears to have as much in common with reality as the deck of the Millennium Falcon. Opulent London townhomes and glamorous, never-repeated outfits seem more than a bit far-fetched for twentysomethings only a few years out of college (there’s a weak attempt to explain the wealthy surroundings by way of some Texas oil money). The exploration of Kash’s Pakistani family is much more realistic, and much more interesting: We get to see Kash and his brother and father at the mosque, then navigating the complicated world of arranged marriages, a path unexplored by usual U.S.-based rom-coms. The diversity and charm of the cast overall is a genuine plus.
That charisma is key here because with 10 episodes, we are going to spend a lot of time with these people, so we need to become quickly invested in their eventual romantic fates. Fortunately Emmanuel and Patel are up to the challenge, able to shoulder an entire ensemble series. (It helps that they make an extraordinarily attractive potentially future couple.) The desire to root for them helps gloss over pesky plot problems, like how can Maya just pick up and work in the U.K. without a permit? Why would someone feel the need to quit their job to follow their dream, then still be at the office to practice? In an attempt to tamp down the opulence, Ainsley’s mother (MacDowell, in a wonderful cameo) says she’s cut her off , but seven episodes in, this thread isn’t followed up on at all. Neither is another plot twist wherein one of the friends finds out they have a child—a major development that hopefully will reappear by the end of the season. (Only the first seven episodes of the series were screened for critics.)
Maybe there’s a reason most rom-coms are under two hours long. We all know the ending before going in, so any plot twists in the meantime—like other relationships, FWAAF’s favorite topic—are doomed to failure. Nope, those two obviously are not going to work out. And neither are they. On the flip side, two minor characters who seem to have a series of run-ins resulting in revealing one-on-one-conversations? You can probably expect them to end up together by season’s end.
While you’re navigating all these various relationships, you can spot various movie references like a rom-com Where’s Waldo. Sometimes FWAAF makes it obvious, throwing a romance-themed costume party so people can dress up like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything and Monica in Love And Basketball. Sometimes the nods are more subtle, and used to better effect—at this point, we can just expect live instruments to pop up in churches like in Love Actually, and someone’s going to kiss in the rain because of course someone’s going to kiss in the rain. But the profession of love via large pieces of posterboard are delivered here to a best friend, not a long-time crush.
It’s those subversions of rom-com convention—isn’t the series’ most solid love story Maya and Ainsley, after all?—that allow this new Four Weddings to shine. It helps that Kaling has drafted most of her team from her often-hilarious sitcom, with Tracey Wigfield as showrunner and Charlie Grandy is on board as an executive producer (as is the original film’s writer and rom-com expert himself, Richard Curtis). So quick pop-culture-related quips—like Maya joking that she could get a job as Meghan Markle’s security double, or everyone’s fascination with Love Chalet, a British version of a Love Island-type reality show—are par for the course, bringing to mind the quick wit of the original.
And its charm as well. Over the course of the first seven episodes, Four Weddings is both a romance and an ode to romance that makes for a long, somewhat contrived twist-filled journey. But that long road also makes the series’ pivotal moment—when we finally get to that life-altering first kiss—well-earned, and even more gratifying.