Starstruck review – a lovely, warm, witty return for Rose Matafeo’s big-hearted romcom | Television

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The first series of Starstruck (BBC Three) was a pure delight, sewing together a fresh sitcom using patchwork pieces of old Hollywood and new romcom. It saw Rose Matafeo create, co-write and star in this story of “little rat nobody” Jessie (Matafeo), a New Zealander living in London, floundering around the city aimlessly, mostly happily. On a night out, she meets Tom (Nikesh Patel), goes back to his place, and the next morning discovers that he is a very famous movie star. So far, so Notting Hill, except that in this much less irritating version, Jessie is only vaguely bothered about Tom’s celebrity, a fame which complicates their blossoming relationship. It goes wrong as often as it goes right, and the imbalance between their lives leads to an epic and occasionally swoon-worthy will-they-won’t-they.

Series two is as much of a treat as the first. It picks up at exactly the moment where it left off, with Jessie half-heartedly on her way home to New Zealand, interrupted by Tom, who joins her on the bus en route to the airport. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that he persuades her not to get on that flight, and if there are any concerns about how to take a will-they-won’t-they story forward when they very much do, it’s swiftly dealt with by the many reminders that Jessie has a tendency to act impulsively without always making the most sensible choice.

Now Jessie has to figure out what to do next, in the aftermath of semi-blowing-up her life. The differences that exist between her and Tom are mined for both comedy and pathos. He is successful, and so wealthy that he has a big house without enough furniture in it. She moves back into her old room, living with her flatmate Kate, and has to beg for her old job at the cinema. The sly subversiveness comes in the fact that Jessie is mostly comfortable with who she is, while Tom is insecure, even needy. In an era of self-destructive and self-flagellating female protagonists, from Sally Rooney’s female characters to Fleabag, Jessie’s gentle messiness is a tonic. Yes, she makes mistakes, but who wouldn’t put a Magic Mike Live T-shirt on their credit card when swept up in a Magic Mike moment?

There is more depth given to Tom this time around, including an episode where he goes home to his family for Christmas; they care so little about his acting career that it’s easy to see why Jessie makes him feel so comfortable. Starstruck has a cheeky punishing streak when it comes to fame, and while more minor characters are wowed by Tom, most of the major ones are nonplussed to the point of forgetting that he’s famous at all. (Incidentally, my only objection to the character is that he is lacking the ego and easy confidence that true movie stars deploy to dazzle, and also, that it is far too easy for him to be able to go about his grand romantic gestures in parks without being harassed by either paparazzi or a wall of smartphone cameras.)

Most of the series follows loosely the same pattern as it did before, with Jessie and Tom locked in a push-and-pull situation that leaves both of them unsatisfied at various points. Jessie is a fish out of water in Tom’s world, and once again, Minnie Driver engages in a spot of scene-stealing as his shamelessly spiky agent, who demands that he makes her more money and accuses him of workplace bullying when he tries to catch a different flight to the one on which he’s booked. Russell Tovey has a memorable appearance as a swaggering director who clashes with Tom’s nice-guy approach to film-making. Tom, meanwhile, can’t quite fathom Jessie’s more impetuous side, though he does forgive her shockingly bad approach to gift-giving. They fight over Scrabble, money and exes, and each does their best to forge a partnership while working out who the other person is and could be.

For all of its big-hearted sense of fun, it deals in flaws, too, and what happens when two people who are fundamentally compatible keep getting it ever so slightly wrong: adopt the brace position when Tom sort-of accidentally refers to Jessie as “kooky”. It will air weekly on television, but the whole series is also on iPlayer for viewers to “box set”. There are few series that can sustain being watched in one sitting, but Starstruck is one of them, and I would argue that this lovely, warm, witty series even benefits from a binge-watch. Each episode may be short and sweet, but the cumulative effect is magical.



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