“Well I think this is alright.”
That’s a character in the new Hulu series Four Weddings and a Funeral reacting to his newly decorated living room.
When pressed to be more effusive, he responds, “I think this works.”
And unfortunately, I can only offer the same faint praise of the 10-episode dramedy. The series—which boasts Mindy Kaling as its co-creator and executive producer, and Richard Curtis (who wrote the 1994 movie of the same name) as one of its executive producers—is cute. At times it’s charming, at times it’s amusing, and, at times, it’s clever. But in the seven episodes made available for review, it never becomes a series you can’t wait to watch. The runtimes feel tediously long. Each entry is about an hour when a crisp half-hour outing would have been vastly preferred.
The show is reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother or Friends with its interwoven core group, which made me really think about the current state of streaming platforms. Already gone are the days when they were dropping shows like The Handmaid’s Tale or Orange is the New Black or Transparent—innovative, game-changing content you truly couldn’t find anywhere else. Now streaming platforms, they’re just like us!, are often offering up the same passable series as their network counterparts.
In the premiere, speechwriter Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel) reunites with her college friends—home designer Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse), finance guru Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith) and school teacher Duffy (John Reynolds)—who are all living in London. Ainsley is engaged to Kash (Nikesh Patel). Craig is living with British born, reality star wannabe Zara (Sophia La Porta) while hapless Duffy, who a la Ted Mosby becomes more grating with each passing episode, pines for Maya.
It’s no secret that Kaling loves a good romantic comedy, and that spirit is woven throughout the show. Characters re-enact the famous poster board scene from Love Actually (also written by Curtis) and the boom box one from Say Anything. The problem is those references, in and of themselves, are clichés. How many other movies and TV shows have already paid homage to them?
Still, the show’s pop-culture laden dialogue can be delightful. One character refers to pulling a “Grace and Frankie with my friend” while another says “everybody uses Facebook and they did all kinds of horrible things to us.” But, at other times, it will make you roll your eyes. In the seven episodes made available for review there are two references to Grease. I love Danny and Sandy as much as the next person but it seems like a bit much. Sometimes you can see where the writers’ room thought something was hilarious and couldn’t let it go, like with an ongoing spoof of romance reality shows called Love Chalet—think of it as a cross between Bachelor in Paradise and Love Island—that starts off cute and eventually becomes way too self-indulgent.
The show shares the premise and the writer of the movie, but the similarities stop there. Andie MacDowell’s much-touted cameo is just that—a cameo. Don’t leave the room when she’s on the screen or you’ll miss her. There doesn’t seem to be a real reason the show is set in London except for the fact that is where the movie takes place, and there can be some fun British humor (“Sorry, you can’t be a bridesmaid. You’re too pretty. Pippa situation.”)
Emmanuel (Game of Thrones) is an easy lead to root for. Most of us have been where Maya is, struggling to figure out the right career path, making poor romantic choices and hurting the ones we love without realizing it. At one wedding, Maya laments that when she goes to weddings, she’s seated at the American table, the black table, the ex-girlfriend table or the spinster table. Anyone who has endured the slew of weddings that occur in your 20s and 30s has been there.
Pitel is a dashing leading man who struggles, like Maya, with how to forge the career path he wants (actor) with the one he has (boring financial guy). Smith, who was so hilarious in his recurring bit as Sam on You’re the Worst, brings that same sense of humor to a much more grounded character. La Porta adroitly walks the line of being a bit daft (check out the words she spells in Scrabble) but not being a total idiot; she’s a fully realized character one who is not just used for an easy punchline.
There are a few break out performances, notably Kash’s friend Basheer (Guz Khan) and Ainsley’s uptight British neighbor Gemma (Zoe Boyle). Boyle in particular brings a lot to her wealthy, high society mom who doesn’t know what to pack her son for lunch (steak and raisins?)
But while Four Weddings and a Funeral offers up a diverse cast, it does so without making an issue about the diversity. Maya and Craig are African-American. Kash is Pakistani. And while there are some funny scenes with Kash having to go on dates with a chaperone, the characters’ ethnic background, while obviously part of who they are, isn’t the only characteristic that defines them. These are all roles that couldn’t have been played by just anyone.
Part of the fun of watching the series is trying to guess who will be the couples of the four weddings and who will be the deceased at the funeral, but seven episodes in I think I’m pretty clear on what the remaining weddings will be. The show isn’t breaking any new ground in the romantic comedy department, and the couples that should be together are telegraphed very clearly.
This might be a wedding where you scoot out after the cocktail hour and go home to watch Friends.
Four Weddings and a Funeral premiere July 31 on Hulu. The first week launch will feature the four first episodes with a new episode premiering every Wednesday thereafter.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).