The premise of Starstruck, a BBC and HBO Max series, sounds straight out of fanfiction, and the show embraces it with full vigor and humor. The show revolves around a 28-year-old New Zealander woman Jessie who lives in London and one night drunkenly hooks up with a British movie star Tom at a New Year’s Eve party. To quote the show, “it is like fanfiction, but it’s real, it’s like fan non-fiction.” And if you are looking for something colorful and funny to occupy your time (not a lot of it though, the show is only six episodes 20 minutes each), then Starstruck is for you.
The show’s main draw is its main characters, Jessie and Tom, and their incredible chemistry. Standup comedian Rose Matafeo does not only play Jessie, but she is also the creator and writer of the show. In her hands, Jessie comes out as a down-to-earth sarcastic young woman who is prone to screwups but is also very charming. Most importantly, Jessie just looks… normal. And that is a refreshing sight to see in romantic shows.
In fact, it becomes apparent how much we are used to seeing only a certain type of woman in romantic leads when Jessie meets a female movie star in the show. However, Jessie’s unlikeliness to be the rom-com lead is not treated by the show as either something revolutionary or something to fix. Instead, it is stated rather matter-of-factly that no one (who does not know her) would expect Jessie to hook up with a movie star, but here she is. And she is not even trying to Bridget Jones her way into the romantic relationship.
Nikesh Patel is quickly making romcoms his forte following Mindy Kaling’s Four Weddings and a Funeral (2019) miniseries and Good Grief (2021) drama where Patel stars the opposite of Fleabag’s Sian Clifford. Patel’s Tom is humble, a bit messy, and sexy. His character was very obviously written by women, and Patel with his boyish charisma, does the most with a character that could have been far flatter in the hands of another actor. I may not have enjoyed another man whining about his well-paid job as much as I did with Patel’s Tom. Nevertheless, he makes for a handsome match for Jessie. Although maybe she could still do better.
The show depicts a year in the life after Jessie and Tom have their one-night stand. They continuously bump into each other, maintain excellent banter, and keep getting into all kinds of shenanigans together, aided by Jessie’s flatmate Kate, played by Emma Sidi (who is also Matafeo’s real-life flatmate). Jessie’s hustle at jobs she does not like, and a social life that she cannot quite control is also the quintessential millennial representation. Oh, and Minnie Driver makes an appearance as Tom’s blunt agent.
All in all, Starstruck achieves exactly what it aims for – it provides good escapist entertainment. Just based on its premise, it could be labeled as a guilty pleasure watch, but it is too good and made with too much love for that. It is just all pleasure.
Starstruck is available to stream in the US on HBO Max.
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