‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ meets Hitchcock in Hulu’s enjoyable new comedy
An unlikely, likable mix of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “The 39 Steps,” Hulu’s “Wedding Season” is a millennial rom-com thriller, in which a lovelorn dreamer falls for a woman who’s trouble. In the present timeline, the two are fleeing the authorities and mysterious deadly forces. In the recent past, to which we continually flash back, a group of aging college friends go from nuptial to nuptial over the course of a summer, working out their individual romantic agendas.
The series opens with a bedraggled Stefan (Gavin Drea) interrupting the wedding of Katie (Rosa Salazar), like Dustin Hoffman at the end of “The Graduate,” to proclaim his love for her as she stands at the altar. Unlike in that film, she tells him to get lost; he’s tackled. In the next scene, as Stefan reviews the humiliation with a friend, a SWAT team bursts in to arrest him. (It’s the Manchester Metropolitan Police; this is England.) The groom and his family were all poisoned at the reception, and Katie has disappeared.
I have no idea whether creator Oliver Lyttelton had Alfred Hitchcock in mind as a model, but the director is the father of the comedic romantic thriller, and (factoring out the “Four Weddings” elements) the plot of “Wedding Season” is quite in the spirit of “The 39 Steps” and “Young and Innocent,” from Hitchcock’s British years, and of the American-made “Saboteur” and “North by Northwest.”
In each of those films, the leading man is accused of a crime he did not commit and must convince the woman fate throws him together with that he is innocent and/or not crazy. (Well, in “North by Northwest,” the woman already knows.) The protagonists go on the run, traveling through a series of set pieces, meeting eccentric characters and people who are not what they seem. Something very much of the sort is going on here, though it’s the woman who’s accused of the crime and the man who becomes her accomplice. And, as in “The 39 Steps,” the chase takes them first to the Scottish Highlands in search of a man they believe can help. That does not feel like a coincidence to me. And, as in any number of such stories, they will at one point find themselves on a window ledge.
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In an interrogation room, across from detectives Metts (Jade Harrison) and Donahue (Jamie Michie), the flashbacks begin as Stefan tells his story. At wedding No. 1, we meet “the gang.” Suji (Ioanna Kimbook) makes inappropriate dating choices. Jackson (Omar Baroud) is antimonogamous to the degree you don’t quite believe he means it. Anil (Bhav Joshi) and Leila (Callie Cooke) are engaged; he is obsessed with planning their wedding, which gets on her nerves. And Stefan, who loves too easily and too much, has decided to propose to his girlfriend of seven months, even as she is planning to leave him. (She’s waiting for an Uber as he gets down on one knee.) “Everybody’s getting married,” says Stefan. “I don’t want to be left behind.”
Later that night, drunk and on drugs, he meets Katie, also a guest; she’ll assist him in a sidewalk tracheotomy — he’s a doctor, apparently just for the purposes of this scene — and because this is 2022 and not 1935, they’ll have sex in a bathroom before they get to know each other better. This establishes a pattern in their meetings, accidental and otherwise.
At the end of the first episode, in the present timeline, Katie arrives to drag Stefan out of police custody, a caper that involves them jumping from one rooftop to another. “Take the leap,” she tells him, echoing something he had said about marriage (“I want to be the kind of person who can take that leap”) on the night they met. And so begins their life on the road as they try to discover who was behind the mass murder of her new in-laws — and stay alive themselves.
The script is finely calibrated if not always plausible — Lyttelton does a good job of tying up threads, so that unexplained actions eventually make some sense and what has been fuzzy comes into focus. But as events move toward a head, it becomes increasingly clear that Katie’s plans, which remain vague through much of the season, are bizarrely complicated (even bizarre) — the sort of scheme, familiar from heist films and the finale of most every season of “Breaking Bad,” in which Everything Must Go Right. That everything doesn’t go right is quite in the series’ favor, but as the fugitives are forced to improvise, they take steps that seem foolhardy, impossible and possibly suicidal. ”I’m just responding to the events as they g— unfold,” says Katie, which is a good enough way to approach the series, moment to moment.
As is not uncommon in the age of streaming, the plot is complicated by there being time to fill; “Wedding Season” runs about five and a half hours over eight episodes, whereas Hitchcock wrapped up “The 39 Steps” in 90 minutes. Even the whole of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” would only add another couple of hours. Things have to happen and then other things have to happen, followed by more things happening. Triumphs will be followed by failures to set the stage for new triumphs, which will be necessarily short-lived. Trust gives way to suspicion, which is allayed by trust, which is destroyed by new revelations.
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In the end, you may be enjoying yourself enough that the more mechanical aspects of the narrative won’t matter. (I was.) The crisp dialogue defines characters in short order; the parts are uniformly well cast and played, and even the minor roles feel full-bodied. As portrayed by Drea and Salazar, Stefan and Katie are easy to like, even at their most exasperating. Stefan, if something of a sad sack, is also a charming big galoot who sincerely believes in love. (“I wouldn’t say it’s all I think about, but it’s definitely the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning,” he says, but really it’s all he thinks about.) Katie is not quite a femme fatale; she is inscrutable, and something of a liar, and at times a kind of Manic Pixie Nightmare, but enough of what she says and does suggests that she is basically good, and that she really does like Stefan.
I assume they’ll be together at the curtain — the final episode has been withheld from reviewers — or what’s this long, bumpy trip been for? But who can say? (Kids these days, with their dark comedy.) Still, notwithstanding a cliffhanger, anything but a happy ending would be a betrayal of audience expectations, and of the genre itself. Indeed, given the seasonal arc, which bends toward a definitive conclusion, even a cliffhanger would feel like cheating. Not every creatively or commercially successful first season demands a second.
(Though I would watch one.)
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