FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (Mindy Kaling, Matt Warburton). Premieres Thursday (September 26) on CityTV. Rating: NNN
Mindy Kaling is not playing around with her latest project. The comedian and writer co-created this miniseries based on director Mike Newell and screenwriter Richard Curtis’s 1994 British movie of the same name, turning it into an entertaining TV rom-com with a diverse cast of characters. Unlike many shows featuring actors of colour, Four Weddings And A Funeral doesn’t draw on trauma-filled narratives or bad accents; instead it manages to be light and amusing while maintaining the integrity of the characters’ ethnicities. Though it lacks the sharp writing that made the movie memorable, the four episodes sent to critics show promise.
The central characters are four American college friends who have settled in London: Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel), a political speechwriter whose affair with her boss has ended abruptly; Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse), who still relies on her parents’ financial support to run an interior design business; Duffy (John Reynolds), who has been in love with Maya since college but turns his romantic attention to a fellow teacher; and Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith) who is experiencing true love and commitment for the first time, but struggling with being in a relationship.
The 1994 movie follows Hugh Grant’s character and his friends as they attend the weddings of friends and find love. But the series expands the focus to all four central characters and their own weddings. In the first four episodes, there are more breakups than marriages – perhaps the added conflict is designed to stretch the story over 10 episodes. Supporting players and personal crises that are removed from (but still related to) the central stories surround all four, making this diverse cast more than a group of people of different colours.
The movie was aesthetically very English, with its Notting Hill setting and leftover Laura Ashley 80s fashions. Its social dynamics were more interesting too, with punk-rock chic juxtaposed against “proper” English culture and a not-quite-gay gay couple. It was also consistently humorous, full of demonstrative acting and physical comedy.
In comparison, this series can feel staid – these Americans could live in any large city in 2019, and there are no social boundaries being pushed. But the characters are more developed and we get a deeper sense of their lives, not just who they are in relation to these four weddings and a funeral.
There’s Craig’s office-mate Kash (Nikesh Patel) along with his aging father and much younger brother Asif (Krrish Patel); Ainsley’s rich housewife neighbour Gemma (Zoe Boyle); Craig’s girlfriend Zara (Sophia La Porta), and a few others who round out the tragedy and joy.
While Hollywood is increasingly casting actors of colour (though not nearly enough), the industry often relegates the narrative arcs for non-white characters to “other” status, or ignores their colour. Kaling and her team have not only transplanted actors of colour into this revival, they have also centred their stories and realities. The best example are the scenes of Kash at home with his father and brother. Rather than have a white friend liaise between the family and the audience, the characters speak some Urdu without subtitles.
Though some of these characters feel like tropes, my hope is that, in the remaining six episodes, the writers subvert their predictable paths: the Pakistani man caught between a career expected of him and one he wants in the arts; the absent Black father; the hardworking Black woman; and even the rich, blond retail designer woman.
Kaling and co-creator Matt Warburton’s previous projects, The Mindy Show and Champions, kept me coming back with clever writing and subtle humour. Four Weddings isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny, but humorous moments arise in Gemma’s ridiculous lifestyle and values, Kash’s immigrant father’s understanding of British culture and in all the quippy dialogue. This Four Weddings is more rom than com and lacks the movie’s clever one-liners.
While many are celebrating 20 years of the hit-90s sitcom Friends, I’m celebrating a show that feels like a culmination of what Kaling has been working toward for years, and the changing landscape of television fuelled by and for audiences of colour. This show is what friend-groups in urban centres in 2019 look like – or should look like. This is the kind of television I can relate to and sometimes long for, but with more unpredictability and humour.
If you want a heartwarming and fun show focused on friendships with Love Actually vibes, this will do nicely.