“Fuck.” “Fuck!” “FUCK.” “Fuck.”
In a series of iterations, various crescendos, and levels of exasperation, those are the first words of Hulu’s new TV series adaptation/reimagining of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
It’s the same opening aria of expletives as the 1994 Richard Curtis rom-com classic, which had Hugh Grant tossing off four-letter words in the introduction to an iconic, star-making performance that would take him through, as the title suggests, four weddings, a funeral, a rain-soaked kiss for the ages with Andie MacDowell, and a career-long association with romantic comedies.
Aside from the titular structural device, that salvo of f-bombs is about all that mirrors Curtis’s Oscar-nominated film in Mindy Kaling’s new Hulu series. Starring Game of Thrones alum Nathalie Emmanuel (the fated Missandei) and breakout British heartthrob Nikesh Patel (best known for the Channel 4 series Indian Summers), Kaling attempts a remake of mood rather than one of plot, with this version set in 2019 London and centering around a friend group of American expats instead of close-knit Brits.
The familiar litany of curses may also have been mumbled by members of the creative team this week as, timed to the Hulu series’ debut, a tide of reviews from polite to decidedly underwhelmed rolled in. The general consensus: The 1994 film is an all-time great romantic comedy, a bar far too high for a well-intentioned reimagining to meet. In other words, why would you even try?
Before the show debuted earlier this week, we talked with the cast and creative team about just that. While some admitted it was somewhat of a fool’s errand, they also discussed the more noble purpose behind the series, beyond merely living up to the original film—a purpose that perhaps needed a title as indelible as Four Weddings and a Funeral to be accomplished.
When Kaling reached out to friend and frequent collaborator Tracey Wigfield (Great News, The Mindy Project, 30 Rock) to be showrunner, the first bit of business was to revisit the film. “I remember watching it and going, oh God, how are we going to do this?” Wigfield tells me. “It seems like such a bad idea.”
There is so much from the original film that is unimpeachably canon, she says: Grant’s star turn, the revelatory depiction of the friends’ familial love, and, perhaps above all, the wrenching eulogy scene at the funeral. Simply redoing the story with a subpar modern answer to Hugh Grant would be its own disaster.
“We were thinking, OK, what is the reason for this to exist, and I think the answer for me and for Mindy is inclusive casting,” Wigfield says. “There’s an opportunity here to do something fresh and new, and in a rom-com with this specific tone, which is not just a shitty Kate Hudson rom-com. It’s actually funny. It’s so smart. You care about these characters. So let’s try to do that, the tone from Richard Curtis’ movies, but with an inclusive cast that you don’t see as the leads in love stories often.”
Those leads are Emmanuel’s Maya and Patel’s Kash, gender-flipped versions of the film’s Charles (Grant) and Carrie (MacDowell). In this version it is Maya, an American, who is the unlucky-in-love protagonist, while Kash is the charming Brit with whom she sparks a star-crossed connection.
Kaling told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles that when she was approached by the studio MGM with the idea for this series, she found the prospect “terrifying” because the film is “so perfect.”
A well-documented romantic comedy aficionado and fan, as reflected in both her work (The Mindy Project) and her own admission (“you all have heard ad nauseam; we do not need to talk about my love of romantic comedies today”), Kaling saw mining the recognizable hallmarks of Richard Curtis’s work as an opportunity to reinvigorate and, in terms of visibility, revolutionize the genre that she loves.
“I was thinking, ‘Well, what would make it worth it would be to probably show a love story through the lens that I would like to see a love story, which is an African-American woman and a British-Pakistani man falling in love,’” she said. “And then to fill out the cast with people that we don’t normally get to see in these kinds of roles. From there, it just got really exciting.”
Emmanuel, who replaced the series’ original star Jessica Williams as Maya, gained immense fame as Daenerys Targaryen’s trusted friend and counsel, Missandei, in Game of Thrones—and also an acute awareness of television’s racial optics as her character met her fate.
Four Weddings was an appealing opportunity to retreat from a world of ruthless violence and hyper-serious stakes. “No one gets beheaded. No one gets impaled by anything. No one gets burned by a dragon,” she tells me. But it’s the inclusivity of the love story—and, more, the matter-of-factness of it—that thrilled her. Regardless of how the series is received, that she and Patel are viewed as romantic leads on the magnitude of Grant and MacDowell, in this story specifically, matters.
“When I realized that this was going to be led by a black mixed woman and a South Asian British guy, I was over the moon,” she says. Seated next to her, Patel adds, “These two shades of brown are not usually paired together in a romantic story.”
“Representation matters,” Emmanuel adds. “I don’t care what anybody says. It matters. It shows you’re valid. That you’re able to fully love.” Patel nods vigorously: “There’s been a shortage up until this point. If I wanted to find stories about romance with people who look like me, they’re not out there unless it’s Bollywood.”
Wigfield remembers that, early on in production, Patel worried that he wasn’t doing enough to look like Hugh Grant, asking if he should wear glasses similar to the ones Charles wears in the movie. That he shouldn’t was the entire point. And, should it need to be made clear, Patel’s Kash is extremely hot and desirable on his own.
“Mindy talks about growing up loving rom-coms and watching Meg Ryan movies and loving them so much and just being like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m not a blonde chick, but you just impose yourself on that,’” Wigfield says. “The exciting thing is that you watch a show like this and you don’t have to do that calculation.”
There are parts of the movie that are too memorable and singular for the new series to dare touch. The eulogy delivered by John Hannah in the film is so spectacularly beautiful that the thought of replicating it nearly put Wigfield off the project entirely. So they don’t even try.
Watching, though, you’ll see recognizable Four Weddings elements—a character who’s harbored a lifelong crush on a friend, a wedding that’s called off at the altar, London as a major character—as well as callbacks to scenes from Curtis’s other films, like Love Actually and Notting Hill. Most important to Kaling was finding a new way to explore the dynamics between the central friends, which ultimately makes up the heart of Four Weddings.
“I have never seen a movie where a British-Pakistani man and an African-American man are best friends at work, and they work in finance,” she said. “That is a thing you see all the time and it’s a certain type of Wolf of Wall Street type of situation. And then, we have these two characters, Craig and Kash, and they’re so enjoyable and you think, why haven’t we seen this before? And the fact that the characters do not seem to have these racial boundaries that I think we often see in other shows was really refreshing.”
Initial reactions to the series have run the gamut from “a witty, old-fashioned love letter to rom-coms” to “pales in comparison to the original” and “lacks all of the original’s bumbling charm,” a polarization common to the genre and perhaps expected given the daunting task of living up to this source material. (Curtis, who wrote the film, is an executive producer on the series.)
Both Kaling and Wigfield cop to the hour-long drama (dramedy?) format being new to them, so not only was the writers room populated with diverse writers in terms of gender, race, and, because of where the show is set, hailing from the U.S. and the U.K., but also in terms of comedy and drama series backgrounds.
The goal, Wigfield says, was to make something satisfying, heartfelt, and funny that would be appealing whether or not a viewer has seen or likes the movie. Or, it seems, likes to say “fuck.”