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Television

With ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ Mindy Kaling wants you to know she’s more than a rom-com ‘obsessive’

Nathalie Emmanuel in Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
Nathalie Emmanuel stars in Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” adapted by Mindy Kaling from the 1994 film starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell.
(Jay Maidment/Hulu)

In Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” everyone lives in a mansion in Notting Hill and no one worries about having the right visa to work abroad. Romantic prospects show up on your doorstep unannounced, you always get the last word in the argument, and the perfect song is always playing in the background of your life.

The whimsical wish-fulfillment of “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” based on the 1994 Richard Curtis film and reimagined by series creator Mindy Kaling, isn’t exactly revolutionary. (The series features allusions to beloved romantic comedies from “Love, Actually” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” to “Mamma Mia!” and “Say Anything.”) But Hulu’s version also subverts and toys with the rom-com’s conventions — fitting given Kaling’s association with the genre, which dates to the debut of her irreverent sitcom “The Mindy Project” in 2012.

Rebecca Rittenhouse in Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
Rebecca Rittenhouse as Ainsley, an American woman on the eve of her marriage to Nikesh Patel’s Kash, in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
(Jay Maidment/Hulu)

“I talk about my love of romantic comedies because I, like a lot of people who work in the genre, like them,” Kaling said. “But I feel like the way I’m categorized in press is ‘obsessive, encyclopedic fan Mindy Kaling,’ because those are the only questions I’m asked. I love the genre. I think it’s fantastic. But I feel like I’ve talked about this a lot.”

Kaling, who was hesitant when MGM — which owns the rights — approached her about turning the film into a TV show, doesn’t agree with the premise that romantic comedies are making a comeback. Instead, she says, they’re a consistent part of our cultural landscape. The challenge is finding new ways into the genre.

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“I loved the movie and I think the movie is completely perfect, so at first I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to do it,” Kaling said. “But then, when I was looking at it through the lens of how I see London and the sort of people I know there, I thought, ‘OK, that could look different. That might be worth doing.’” She added, “The only reason to do something like this was to show things I have not seen in romantic comedies before.”

On Monday, Reese Witherspoon posed a question to her 2.3-million Twitter followers: “Why aren’t there more romantic movies?!??!”

For Kaling and her team, one way to achieve this effect was to create a diverse collection of characters, reflecting a variety of races, religions, sexualities and genders. This version of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” takes only loose inspiration from the film, with “Game of Thrones” actress Nathalie Emmanuel stepping in as the de facto Hugh Grant figure, an American named Maya who comes to London to join her college friends after a rough breakup. She reunites with her best friend, Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse), a wealthy Texan, who turns out to be engaged to Kash (Nikesh Patel), a charming Brit of Pakistani descent Maya meets-cute in Heathrow Airport.

“She’s such an advocate for diverse casting,” Emmanuel said of Kaling. “It just goes to show that when you have people of color and women in the writers’ room what a difference that makes in casting. The whole cast is very, very inclusive. That instantly makes it modern.”

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“The casting of this show is making the point that whatever you look like or wherever you’re from, when it comes to love, it makes fools of us all,” noted Patel, whose character’s Pakistani and Muslim identities are explored throughout the series. “There’s a lot of negativity and a lot of rhetoric flying around that seems to be focused on drawing up hate, and I think it’s really important that not all of our drama is tapping into that.”

Though Kaling drew inspiration for her version from female-led dramas like “Big Little Lies” and “Killing Eve” — as well as the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries — she understands the value of entertainment that doesn’t deal in difficult themes.

“The world is big enough for all different kinds of art,” she said. “You can see a show like ‘Big Little Lies,’ which makes you want to live in Monterey and have these lives, but also the story lines can be very dark and heavy and mature. Even on one project alone you can accomplish a lot. I do think when people come home after a long day of work, a lot of times they want things that uplift them, and so that’s why these kinds of stories and this kind of storytelling has succeeded in the past.”

Because the writers had 10 hourlong episodes to work with, the narrative is expansive, jumping forward in time to depict, well, four weddings and a funeral. The project is meant as a limited series, rather than as the first season of an ongoing TV show, and the intention is that these characters will end their journeys here. The tone is uplifting and inspirational, as in any good romantic comedy, but there are also sincere moments of drama (the aforementioned funeral is particularly poignant). For showrunner Tracey Wigfield, who previously worked with Kaling on “The Mindy Project,” the idea was less to mimic what’s come before than to reconceptualize it.

“When we were originally talking about it, we were like, ‘OK, is it like “Gilmore Girls”? Is it more like “Sense and Sensibility”?’ ” Wigfield said. “Hopefully, in success, we’re doing a new tone. Coming from a comedy background, I like and appreciate mocking romantic comedies and those tropes. And there certainly is some of that in this show. But the other thing that’s appealing about this is that it is earnest and hopeful and genuinely romantic. It was nice to write something that didn’t feel cynical. The question was: What is our version of a romantic comedy?”

“I don’t want to say we haven’t seen it before, because I’m sure someone will come up with a great example,” added Kaling.

Nikesh Patel in Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
Nikesh Patel in Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
(Ollie Upton / Hulu)

Indeed, despite occasionally needling genre expectations, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is unabashedly a romantic comedy. Its costumes and sets are beautiful and deeply aspirational. It centers on the sort of friend group, which also includes actors John Paul Reynolds, Brandon Mychal Smith and Zoe Boyle, you wish you were a part of. Andie MacDowell, who appeared in the original, cameos as Ainsley’s mom, and rom-com mainstay Dermot Mulroney, lead of starry-eyed genre entries like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “The Wedding Date,” comes in midway through the series as a love interest for one of the characters.

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“Everything delivers on the promise of a good, old-fashioned romantic comedy,” Mulroney said. “I know it seems like a lot, but I’ve only been in a few and that’s how impactful they are. They really stick to people.”

That love for romantic comedies runs deep with a lot of fans — as evidenced by the success of recent Netflix movies such as “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Set It Up.” Curtis, an executive producer on the Hulu series, is still writing successful rom-coms, including this year’s “Yesterday.” And, against prevailing definitions of “prestige” TV, a story doesn’t have to be deeply serious to have creative merit.

“I think there’s been a lot out there that’s been dark and confusing just for the sake of it,” Rittenhouse said. “We’ve conflated the idea of ‘something that’s good’ and ‘something that’s artistic’ with ‘something that’s heavy, dark and confusing.’ I am enjoying the fact that we’ve returned to enjoying something with more of a happy ending. It’s something people strive for in their real lives, and to be able to watch it on TV is very fulfilling. Life is hard and it’s complicated and it’s messy, and I think rom-coms give you a pair of rose-colored glasses to look at life through.”

‘Four Weddings and a Funeral‘

Where: Hulu

When: Any time, starting Wednesday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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