Starstruck review: A charming rom-com
Sophie Davies | On 28, Aug 2023
Season 3 premieres on BBC Three on 28th August 2023. This review is based on Season 1 and was originally published on 9 May 2021.
New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo’s star has risen rapidly in the last few years. Since winning the Edinburgh Fringe comedy award in 2018, she’s appeared on shows such as Taskmaster and Hypothetical. Last year, her award-winning stand-up show Horndog became an HBO Max special (and is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer) and she starred alongside Matthew Lewis in the film Baby Done. The latest string to Matafeo’s bow is her own BBC Three and HBO Max sitcom, Starstruck, co-written with fellow New Zealand comic Alice Snedden.
Starstruck begins with Jessie (Matafeo) reluctantly going to a club on New Year’s Eve and, while her friend gets chatted up by a guy who seemingly only wants to talk about Bitcoin, hitting it off with a man she meets in the men’s toilets. It isn’t until after they’ve spent the night together that Jessie realises why Tom (Nikesh Patel) looks so familiar to her. He doesn’t work at Shepherd’s Bush Superdrug, as she initially suspected – he’s a movie star. He apparently did tell her that he was an actor when they were both pretty drunk the night before, to which she responded with a disgusted “no thanks” and immediately forgot about the interaction…
After this initial hook-up, the series follows Jessie and Tom as they encounter each other throughout the year, from a chance meeting outside a pub to a screening for a terrible blockbuster he’s starring in. On one occasion, he unwittingly crashes a murder mystery dinner party at her house, looking for help with a self-tape where he needs to do an Australian accent (she’s the closest he’s got, being from New Zealand).
Matafeo has a winning screen presence, striking just the right balance of confidence and awkwardness, and she and Snedden have put a refreshing, Millennial twist on the rom-com format. Starstruck isn’t the sort of rom-com we’re used to, where the characters have glamorous jobs and live in even more glamorous homes. Tom may be a famous actor, but Jessie lives in a believably small house share in Hackney and juggles two jobs – nannying for a family with kids who prefer their other nanny, and working at the type of indie cinema where a “film bro” customer scoffs at her for having never seen Schindler’s List.
The plot might stir up memories of Notting Hill, but if Starstruck resembles anything else it’s perhaps Broad City, which showed Millennial women living in a big city, dating around, jumping from one dead-end job to another and having fun, without feeling the obligation to settle down or “have a serious career” that people in their late 20s would have felt in previous decades. The opening to Episode 2, where Jessie dances down the street and high-fives passers-by after a one-night stand on a houseboat, is a sequence that certainly wouldn’t feel out of place for Abbi or Ilana.
Much of the conflict in Jessie and Tom’s relationship comes from the difference in status between them. No matter how much he seems to like her, she knows that she is “a little rat nobody” compared to him and the celebrity women he could potentially date. Proving this point, when the paparazzi catch her leaving his apartment, she is immediately mistaken for a cleaner. Later on, she tells him that the idea of them being together is like “a weird animal friendship show where a labrador and a hedgehog are friends”. Meanwhile, Tom’s agent (a scene-stealing cameo from Minnie Driver) advises him that “dating someone like you will most likely ruin a girl’s life… or worse, yours… or by extension, mine”.
Aside from the two likeable leads, the cast is rounded out by some memorable supporting characters. Emma Sidi (Pls Like), one of Matafeo’s real-life best friends, is great as Jessie’s dramatic housemate, Kate, who freaks out whenever Tom is in her vicinity. As Kate’s boyfriend, Al Roberts adds another hilarious loser to his roster of roles in Stath Lets Flats, Feel Good and Dead Pixels, and Jonathan Pointing (Plebs) is a lot of fun as Jessie’s on-off friend with benefits.
Starstruck proves to be a charming, enjoyable and highly bingeable rom-com, with perfect chemistry between the will-they-won’t-they couple at its centre. A second season is already in the works, so it hopefully won’t be long before we find out what’s next for Jessie and Tom.