Because this isn’t really a remake (or even an adaptation) of the original, I’m not going to bother laying out the ways in which this series is or isn’t like the 1994 movie by the same name that launched 1,000 swoons for Hugh Grant. Though, while young Hugh Grant is quite lovely, my favorite character has always been Mr. Beebe, who was actually Mr. Beebe in A Room With a View and Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral, but he will always Mr. Beebe first and foremost in my heart.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, right, the current series Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was pleasant enough.
The series, which was created by Mindy Kaling and Mark Wharburton who previously collaborated on the Mindy Project (another show I sort-of liked some of the time), is centered on a group of American college friends, most of whom, after spending a transformative semester there, have settled in London. Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel, who I understand was maybe a big deal in Game of Thrones) is the only one to have stayed in America, where she works as a political speech writer and is having an affair with her married boss. When that romance eventually explodes in a public way, she decides to move to London. Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse) is an interior designer, who mostly lives off the largess of her apparently incredibly wealthy parents (her mother is played, briefly, by Andie McDowell). She lives in a richly decorated multi-story row house in Notting Hill (of course), which must cost millions of pounds, right?!? Someone educate me on this, please!
Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith, who I always wish there were more of on You’re the Worst) is an investment banker with Goldman Sachs (but somehow is also a nice guy) and a long-time commitment-phobe, who has recently moved in with his girlfriend, Zara (Sophia La Porta). Duffy (John Reynolds) is a Latin teacher at an expensive boys’ school and wannabe novelist who (of course) has aspirations of being published in the New Yorker. What is it with unpublished sad sack white male characters always managing to get something published in the New Yorker? Never mind. We all know the answer to that. (It rhymes with white privilege.)
When Maya first arrives in London and accidentally grabs the wrong bag from the luggage carousel, she meets Kash (Nikesh Patel, whose bone structure and yearning for a forbidden lover I also enjoyed in Indian Summers), an investment banker who just happens to be visiting his airport-employed father.
While searching for her bag in a giant warehouse, Maya and Kash have instant banter and chemistry, tell each other deep secrets, bond over their dead mothers, and spar about the merits of the movie Mamma Mia. BUT! What Maya doesn’t know is that Kash is also Aisnley’s fiancé! Can you believe it?!? What I have a hard time believing is that Maya had never seen a picture of Kash. Throughout the show there are multiple references to Instagram where, presumably, Ainsley would have posted many, many pictures of Kash and his Genetically Blessed Face™. Plus, I text my friends pictures of basically every boring thing in my life. You can be damn sure I would send them photos of that man, even if he wasn’t my fiancé. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I DID text them a photo or two of him while watching the series.) Maybe Maya has undisclosed face blindness? Anyway, this encounter launches the romantic entanglements—several of which I felt were a little forced or underdeveloped—that play out over several years in the ten episode (though it really could have been eight, or even six) series.
Honestly, with the exception of Craig, I didn’t love any of the main characters and mostly stuck with it for the set design and supporting cast. Maya was mostly fine, though I found her life choices and lack of honesty deeply questionable. Ainsley, except for the few moments when she got to be silly, was mostly as flat and boring as her carefully parted-down-the-middle hair. As I said, I did enjoy Craig and his storylines. Duffy, to use a technical term, annoyed the crap out of me. He has the foppish hair, glasses, and bumbling manner of a young Hugh Grant, but with none of the charm. Or maybe in my middle-age that’s just not as cute on a grown man? (But no, I’ve recently rewatched Hugh Grant movies and, to use another technical term, he could still get it.) Anyway, we find out early on that Duffy has secretly (or secretly to her) been pining for Maya since they first met. I assume this is meant to be romantic, but it just felt creepy, which may have been influenced by my aforementioned annoyance with Duffy. Plus, he just felt like a caricature of a nerd written by someone who maybe hasn’t actually met many nerds? Also, he wore a sweater to a night out at the club. A sweater! A SWEATER! What kind of a monster would do that? It made me itchy and sweaty just looking at him.
And, while they kept telling us over and over that these were best friends, I wasn’t entirely convinced of it. I mean, for example, they were all so dressed up for things like game night at each other’s houses. One of the great joys of having best friends is being able to hang out braless, makeupless, and in sweatpants, instead of being, for example, trapped in some very posh jumpsuit that requires removing a belt and getting half-naked in order to go pee. It’s borderline offensive.
On the other hand, I enjoyed Zara, Craig’s girlfriend, even though the series leans so hard into her backstory as “trashy” (i.e. working class) that I was deeply concerned it would face plant. Sophia La Porta, though, gave her character enough heart and intelligence that I often found her more likeable than the main characters. I also enjoyed Gemma (Zoe Boyle, who was Lavinia Swine on Downton Abbey), Ainsley’s neighbor and close friend, who openly resents Maya’s appearance on the scene, and makes multiple references to Masters in Calligraphy. Zoe Boyle plays her as perfectly snobbish, uptight, and snide, while still being highly likable. She delivers lines like, “I wasn’t taking the tube. I just ducked in to avoid a frenemy,” perfectly. Tony (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Ainsley’s haughty design studio assistant, adds further humor and depth to the show. Marcus (Jamie Demetriou, Bus Rodent on Fleabag, which, well…drop everything and go watch that if you haven’t), Maya’s horrible coworker, is delightful in his derision. As is the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings, who of course is not Duke of Windsor in this show, but that’s who I pictured him as for several episodes) as Maya’s very conservative and very pompous English boss. (Do I just have a thing for snobby, abrasive, and snide people? Maybe.)
But far and away my favorite character was Basheer. I would watch this whole series again, but told entirely from Basheer’s perspective. And I loved the way his romantic storyline played out. He’s played by Guz Khan, who, let it be said, is the entire reason I watched all of Turn Up Charlie, a very not good Netflix series that I initially thought I would watch mostly to see Idris Elba (forever in my heart Stringer Bell from The Wire) and his genetically blessed face™. While Guz Khan is absolutely delightful in both, to fully appreciate him you should really watch him in his show Man Like Mobeen, where he mixes humor and political commentary perfectly. The episode where he is stuck in the back of a police van with a white supremacist is particularly good. As is the episode where he and his friends take his sister to A&E.
But, back to this show. One of the things that I did like about the show was the ways it humanized the current political question of immigration reform. I just wish that storyline had been introduced earlier in the series and has allowed more time on-screen. (I wish the same thing about Guz Khan.) This is also a truly diverse show. Well, at least in terms of race and ethnicity, far less so in terms of body type, standards of beauty, or socioeconomic class, the latter of which is largely glossed over (or joked about in the case of Zara). I know my mother—who was appalled that I suggested she might like Grace and Frankie because she couldn’t imagine wanting to watch rich white people complain that much—would likely not make it through even one episode. This isn’t the show for you, Mom! But what the show does with diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, I feel it does pretty well. While it doesn’t delve too deeply into racial disparity, it also doesn’t try to pretend that we live in a post-racial society. Early on Maya mistakenly refers to Kash as Indian. When he points out that he is, in fact, Pakistani she apologizes and then says, “That’s like when people ask me where I’m from, but what they really mean is, ‘You look kind of black. Explain.'” And speaking of Pakistan, what the show does very nicely is to shine a light on South Asian and Muslim culture and practices in a way that is long overdue and needed in more shows. And that feels important and needed right now. Plus, sadly, it’s still generally new and exciting to see a cast where so many black and brown characters get their own storylines and aren’t just cast as the supportive best friend.
The set design and costuming (yes, even the jumpsuit, but minus Duffy’s sweater in the club, which IS STILL HORRIFYING!) were bright and bold and, for me, definitely helped keep the series engaging. Though by the end of my binge-a-thon I kind of wished my eyes had somewhere to rest that wasn’t quite so saturated and decorated. I started to look forward more to the scenes in Kash’s working-class father’s house (another supporting character I greatly enjoyed) that looked like a place people actually lived and could wear sweatpants to a game night without judgement.
The series is liberally peppered with references to rom-coms (both in terms of classic tropes and actual movies), which is not surprising given Mindy Kaling’s open love of them and that the writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mamma Mia, Notting Hill, etc) is an Executive Producer on the series. (It is also littered with pop culture references like Megan Markle and the song “Despacito.”) Personally, as noted, I enjoy romantic comedies and I didn’t mind the homages, like the tried and true scenes of people kissing in the rain, writing unsent love letters, or running through airports to catch flights bound for true love. To me, those things are not unlike a hot cup of tea, comforting because you know exactly what to expect. But I didn’t think there needed to be one platonic reenactment of the silent cue card scene from Love Actually, let alone two. Perhaps for you remembering that very creepy, stalker-ish scene, in which a man uses cue cards to come on to a woman—who he has previously treated like shit to hide his feelings—while her husband—who is also his best friend—is just inside the house, elicits warm romantical feelings (for which I will absolutely judge you, but only quietly and nicely from over here). And if that’s the case, you may enjoy this series more than I did.
I mean, overall, I thought the series was pleasant enough to pass the time, though (not unlike this review), I felt it could have been shorter. It made me laugh a few times and cry more than once (though it should be noted that I am a very easy cry). I got a kick out of some plotlines and characters, enjoyed the set design eye candy, and certainly don’t regret watching it. That said, I also felt like I needed to rush to write this review for fear that I would forget the whole thing by tomorrow.
I do feel I should alert you to the fact that there is a brief scene towards the very end where Dermot Mulroney plays the cello, which is something I didn’t know I needed in my life until now, and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in the series for that moment.