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If you only watch one episode of Four Weddings And A Funeral, make it this one

Photo: Hulu, Graphic: Libby McGuire

The latest episode of Hulu’s Four Weddings And A Funeral, “Game Night,” features one of the series’ eponymous weddings, but it’s not the church-set, bride-walking-down-the-aisle nuptials we’re used to seeing on this show or even anywhere else on television. It’s a Muslim wedding, or as it’s called in Arabic, a nikah. The hall is adorned with glowing lights and blooming flowers and the attendees don their best traditional clothes, the buffet is packed with Desi (stemming from South Asian regions) delectables, and pleasingly soft sitar music rounds out the scene.

It’s the wedding of Basheer and Fatima, two friends of our leading hero Kashiv “Kash” Khan (Indian Summers’ Nikesh Patel). The ceremony also sets the stage for a key moment of progression in Kash’s forbidden romance with Maya (Game Of Thrones Nathalie Emmanuel), the best friend of the woman he left at the altar many months ago. It’s the real reason “Game Night” is a noteworthy outing: In a rare instance on a U.S. TV series, the South Asian male lead’s culture plays an integral role in advancing his principal story. The deep dive into Kash’s family, faith, and heritage, in particular, is what distinguishes Four Weddings from its genre compatriots. Created by self-avowed romantic-comedy fan Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton, the show is loosely based on the 1994 big screen hit. Although also set in London, the Hulu comedy-drama veers considerably from the original, starting with a diverse cast that also includes Brandon Mychal Smith, Rebecca Rittenhouse, John Reynolds, Guz Khan, Rakhee Thakrar, Harish Patel, Zoe Boyle, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.

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At its best, Four Weddings is a mix of some unexpectedly warm romances and friendships—a breezy binge that’s garnered goodwill due in part to its creators, but also the charming performances of Smith, Rittenhouse, Patel, and Emmanuel. At its worst, the show flies past real-life mechanisms to enter an alternate universe in which these characters aren’t plagued with pragmatic problems. Maya is a progressive speechwriter who moves to London and immediately finds a job working for a conservative Minister, work visa issues be damned. Her BFF and Kash’s ex Ainsley Howard (Rittenhouse) is cut off by her rich mother early on but continues to live in a fancy townhouse and runs an interior design store whose only customer seems to be the affluent Bryce (Dermot Mulroney). The problems these characters go through besides their love lives are barely addressed, making it easy and at times justifiable to pick apart this glossy little world of Four Weddings. It’s all starry-eyed material that would rather use Brexit as a punchline than an actual political arc even if Maya works with the government.

What does keep the miniseries grounded and the audience emotionally invested is the realistic portrayal of Kash and his British-Pakistani immigrant family. Patel’s casting as the object of affection is momentous because the show doesn’t treat his ethnicity as a barrier, but revels in its glory. Kash’s interactions with his endearing immigrant father Haroon (Indian actor Harish Patel aces this role), mischievous younger brother Asif (Krrish Patel), and loud best friend Basheer (Khan) breathe fresh life into the show. These small but pivotal moments of representation elevate Kash’s family’s story from being a basic subplot. I cackled watching “Kash With A K,” when Haroon wants to watch the three-hour Bollywood movie Lagaan to unwind, and in “Game Night” when, over the Desi dessert laddoos, he discusses Kash’s wealthy income with another Pakistani dad whose son sold a comic book to Marvel. Kash is a well-developed character, whose diasporic lifestyle is fleshed out without it necessarily defining him. He’s a conflicted man unaware of parts of his own identity, grasping at the few things in his life he can control, whether it’s his career or relationships.

While Kaling herself has written, produced, and played the protagonist in The Mindy Project and Late Night, she’s faced critiques that she doesn’t feature men of color as romantic leads in her projects. Four Weddings alone can’t rectify these criticisms (her upcoming autobiographical comedy should afford more opportunities to cast South Asian actors), but it definitely makes the idea of a Muslim man as the hot, disarming rom-com hero a reality.

It’s also refreshing to see Four Weddings avoid Muslim stereotypes in its depiction of the Khans and their friends. The series gently subverts certain cultural realities, such as Kash meeting Fatima for an arranged marriage through his mosque’s Imam. But she falls for their frequent date chaperone Basheer instead, and in “Game Night,” Fatima and Basheer’s wedding takes place over beautiful hues of red and pink. This wedding also ends up fueling the Kash-Maya courtship further, as she rushes to his side after being inspired by her boss’ impassioned speech about risking it all for true love.

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Maya then gets a quick course on an important nikah custom in which the bride and groom see each other for the first time after their wedding through a mirror, envisioning their future together as husband and wife. In a move straight out of its cinematic rom-com counterparts, Maya turns around only to see Kash through the mirror behind her. They lock eyes and slowly walk toward each other, embrace, then dance it out as mellifluous classical tunes play in the background. It’s probably the most saccharine moment of not just the episode but the show overall, but it’s remarkable because the context of the couple’s decision to be together in that moment is from a perspective that has been largely unseen on TV.

In her previous work such as the “Diwali” episode of The Office or “The Coconut Question” from The Mindy Project, Kaling offered a glimpse into her relationship with her own Hindu culture, but rarely did it advance the narrative. In the former (admittedly very good) episode, Michael Scott gets carried away after listening to Kelly Kapoor (Kaling)’s parents talk about their happy arranged marriage so he proposes to his girlfriend Carol during the Diwali party. It’s The Office so the whole thing is naturally cringe-inducing, but in Four Weddings, Kash and especially Maya (to whom all of this is new) are moved in part by the simple, deeply rooted ritual of the nikah. Another lovely, culturally specific detail is the fashion, which is everywhere in “Game Night”: Fatima, Bash, Maya, Kash, and the 200 guests on-screen are dressed to the nines in colorful South Asian clothes. Fashion designer Salvador Perez shopped from local stores in Southall and Wembley to make the Pakistani wedding appear authentic.

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As sweet as “Game Night” is and as much as it does to bolster representation on the show—and the broader TV landscape—Kash and Maya’s commitment to one another comes a little too late. In its struggle to romanticize the main couple’s longing for several episodes, the show risked dulling the impact of their inevitable reunion. But the highlight of Four Weddings, specifically in this episode, is how Kash’s cultural POV is reflected on his larger story. The show’s heartfelt characterizations of a close-knit Desi family and community fill a void; along with the show’s swoon-worthy lead, it’s a portrayal that’s otherwise been sorely lacking in mainstream television. South Asians don’t yet have the same familial representation on screen as Fresh Off The Boat, Kim’s Convenience, Black-ish, One Day At A Time. We get it in smaller quantities and special character-driven episodes of New Girl, The Good Place, Master Of None, or even the painfully tragic representation through Rajesh Koothrapali in The Big Bang Theory. It’s why “Game Night” and Four Weddings And A Funeral are at once game-changing and still a small step forward—pointing to the kind of stories yet to be mined from this rich cultural pool.

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