In April 1994, a British rom-com unexpectedly took Hollywood by storm. Directed by Mike Newell (who would go on to direct the blockbuster “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and the underappreciated gem “Enchanted April”) from a script by Richard Curtis (who would later write the holiday favorite “Love Actually”), “Four Weddings and a Funeral” became an international sensation with a large LGBT fan base.
The movie centered on Charlie (Hugh Grant), a charming but socially awkward Brit who attends the aforementioned social occasions with a tight-knit group of family and friends. In terms of representation and inclusion, the film was remarkable for the time. The lead cast included two out and well-adjusted gay men (played by Simon Callow and John Hannah) and Charlie’s deaf brother David (played by David Bower). Hugh Grant even learned BSL for their scenes together.
Buoyed by gorgeous cinematography from Michael Coulter, a lovely score by Richard Rodney Bennett and a superb cast, Curtis’ pitch-perfect script and Newell’s sure-footed direction resulted in a movie that was a winning combination of wit and sentiment. The film got rave reviews, broke box office records in Britain and earned multiple nominations and statues at the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award ceremonies.
In addition, the movie made Hugh Grant a star, gave model-turned-actress Andie MacDowell a breakthrough prestige role as Charlie’s American love interest and boosted the fledgling film careers of Simon Callow and Kristin Scott Thomas.
Now, 25 years later, Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton have co-created and co-produced a 10-episode television adaptation of the movie which is now dropping on Hulu. Unfortunately, lightning has not struck twice. Despite some wonderful supporting performances, the new series is as flat as stale champagne.
Kaling and Warburton focus on a quartet of straight American friends from college who all end up in London. Ainsley Howard (Rebecca Rittenhouse) is a designer whose wealthy parents pay the mortgage on her deluxe townhouse and underwrite the expenses for her foundering business. Caleb Duffy (John Reynolds) is an aspiring novelist who teaches English at a boys’ school. Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith) is an investment banker and ladies’ man. Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel) is a political speechwriter.
Their fifth wheel is Kash Khan (Nikesh Patel). He shares an office with Craig (although he really wants to be an actor) and he’s romantically involved with both Maya and Ainsley. That’s just one of many secrets these “friends” keep from each other.
Maya is the first character we meet and her introduction sets the sour tone for the series. She wakes up alone in a glamorous Manhattan apartment. There’s a note on the pillow next to her reading “Good morning beautiful.” Then there’s a text (there are a lot of texts in this show): “Get out of the apartment. My wife is coming home!”
Maya quickly cleans up the rose petals and champagne bottles, retrieves her bra from the fish tank and heads into work. She’s the communications director (and mistress) for a married senatorial candidate, but it’s OK because he’s really going to leave his wife this time and she got out of the apartment before his wife got home.
And that’s the biggest problem with the series: the central characters are generally disagreeable. They’re selfish and self-absorbed. They treat each other rudely and weave complicated webs of alliances and deceptions. They have no self-awareness and take themselves way too seriously.
Beyond that, the writing is oddly uneven. Plot details are inconsistent between episodes. There are some great one-liners, but the lead characters are trapped by every rom-com cliché in the book. Unrequited love since college — check. Rain-drenched declaration of love — check. Being left at the altar — check. Moody walks through night-time London as turgid pop music plays — check. Affairs with bosses and clients — check. And that’s just in the seven episodes that were available for review.
Kaling and Warburton do diversify the overall cast in some interesting ways, but the leads are all notably young and buff and thin and beautiful.
The show is a step back for LGBT representation. In addition to lots of swishy extras, there are two gay supporting characters. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is Tony #2 (Ainsley of course has two gay assistants). Alex Jennings is Andrew Aldridge, Maya’s boss and the first openly gay member of Parliament). These fine actors are absolutely terrific in their roles, but they’re kept firmly in the background. Maybe their storyline needed more rom-com clichés.
The rest of the supporting cast is also great. Zoe Boyle is splendid as Ainsley’s friend Gemma. Her comic timing is impeccable, but she also brings an appealing emotional depth to the character as well. Tom Mison is superb as Gemma’s husband Quentin and Guz Khan is delightful as Kash’s mate Basheer.
Sophia La Porta is absolute dynamite as Craig’s seemingly dim-witted girlfriend Zara. Her comic flair is delicious, but she also manages to imbue her character with more brains and heart than any of the leads. Harish Patel and Krrish Patel are charming and heart-warming as Kash’s loving father and little brother.
While the television adaptation ultimately has little in common with the movie except the title, the series does pay homage to the original by casting Andie MacDowell as Ainsley’s mother. She’s delightful.
Is the series worth watching? Despite the great supporting cast, not really. The writing is riddled with clichés and the lead characters are not very interesting. Revisit the movie instead.