The plot of writer-director Richard Curtis’s high-concept summer romantic comedy Yesterday blared loudly enough from the trailers and onslaught of marketing for most people to garner the plot: A freak blackout somehow erases the existence of The Beatles from the world. Only one person remembers their songs and their legacy, passing them off as his own in an attempt to become a music star.
But if you’ve seen Yesterday, you know that it’s not only The Beatles that no longer exist. Some make sense: No Oasis, as their music certainly descends from the Fab Four’s sound. (Though Ed Sheeran inexplicably escapes that fate.) Other pop culture tenets that have been erased, however, are utterly random and nonsensical. No Coca-Cola. No Harry Potter.
That aspect of the film inspired a parlor game amid film critics and journalists obsessed with trying to understand what does and does not exist according to the random rules of Richard Curtis’ Yesterday universe. After we joked that maybe Curtis’ films themselves may not exist—remember how pivotal the song “All You Need Is Love” is to the plot of Love Actually?—The Huffington Post’s Matt Jacobs asked Curtis that very question.
His response: “Oh, well, that’s very good. I’m going to take that on now. If anyone else says ‘what else has happened,’ I will say, ‘Love Actually is out.’ I think the truth is we would have found another song that could have gone into the church scene.”
Anyway, the whole reason for bringing this up is the recent Hulu adaptation of Curtis’ 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, executive produced by Mindy Kaling and with Tracey Wigfield as showrunner.
The new series is an updated story loosely based on the film’s plot, but, in addition, also includes blatant references to some of Curtis’ other films, like Notting Hill and Love Actually. (In the first episode, for example, one character greets her friend at the airport with heartfelt messages written across a series of white poster board, as in the iconic “To me, you are perfect” scene from Love Actually.)
It begs a similar question: Do Richard Curtis movies exist in the universe of Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral?
Wigfield doubles over with laughter when I ask her this. Turns out, it’s a version of a question she’s been forced to consider before.
When she was a writer on 30 Rock, Jennifer Aniston guested in an episode as an old friend of Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon and fleeting love interest for Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy. The script for the episode, however, also contained a joke with a reference to Friends. How could Friends exist in a world, albeit fictional, in which Aniston is an entirely different person?
“At 30 Rock we used to call this a ‘Goofy Pluto,’” Wigfield explains, using the Aniston/Friends conundrum as an example. In the world of Disney characters, Pluto is a dog and is Mickey’s pet, while Goofy is a dog yet is Mickey’s anthropomorphic friend. How can both things be true?
“No, I think none of them exist,” she says about Curtis’ film in her Four Weddings universe. “Only because we borrow so heavily from them I feel somebody would be like, ‘Wait a minute, this was in Notting Hill!’”
When I mention that maybe the character not only knew to do the white poster board thing because she saw Love Actually, but also how meaningful it would be to her friend, Wigfield pauses.
“Maybe she got it from that,” she says. “Oh god, I didn’t even think about that. Rom-coms exist, of course. They have a rom-com costume party. I think we were thoughtful about that, that it can’t be too meta. Like no one can be Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral at the rom-com party.”
(For the record, MacDowell guest stars later in the season as one character’s mother.)
Curtis is an executive producer on the Hulu series, and gave Kaling his blessing when she was first approached about adapting the film. Wigfield says that he sent them some early footage of Four Weddings, when they were breaking the story in case it would be helpful. His blessing and interest helped, Wigfield says. But so did his sway.
“He pitched a song for the end of the second episode, and we were totally over on our music budget,” she says. “But we were like, ‘But Richard pitched it,’ and they’re like, ‘Alright, we’ll write the check.’”