In the era ofand , nice, simple comedies have become treasured retreats.
An old-fashioned rom-com, the HBO Max series stars Rose Matafeo as Jessie, a millennial who meets the love of her life on a one-night stand on New Year’s Eve. The twist: Tom (Nikesh Patel) is a famous movie star. Just not so famous Jessie, “a little rat nobody,” knew who he was.
Starstruck is — and the review can end here — the ultimate feel-good TV series. It’s safe. Warm. It’s Bridget Jones meets “reverse Notting Hill.” It’s weird characters making every mistake possible while searching for love. If ever there was a show we need right now, this is it.
Season 2 explores what happens after that, after our couple falls in love. It picks up immediately after Jessie abandons an expensive plane trip back home to New Zealand. Her reason? She wants to take the plunge and commit to a relationship with movie star Tom.
That doesn’t mean she’s ready for a relationship, and it turns out this romantic gesture is more complicated than Jessie’s favorite black-and-white movies suggest. Already strapped for cash, Jessie loses shifts at her job. The house-sharing, job-jumping rollercoaster intensifies. Meanwhile, Tom lives in a fancy apartment and receives offers (mainly from a fantastically rude director played by Russell Tovey) to travel the world and work on expensive movie sets.
Both creator and star, Matafeo is truly the beating heart of Starstruck. She’s another in the line of standup comedians to make the seamless transition into acting. With her naturalistic charm, her Jessie is a fast-talking, insecure, “old” movie-loving cinema worker who makes jokes about being 21, while her frantic eyes betray her fear of verging on 30. She makes mistake after frustrating mistake. She has no idea what she’s doing, and that’s the best part about her.
Famously (just read reviews of season 1), Starstruck makes no attempt at breaking ground with the rom-com genre. But don’t mistake its simplicity for lacking depth. Sure, we again cycle through the seasonal chapters of Jessie and Tom’s relationship: They celebrate Christmas, New Year’s, birthdays and weddings, just like the year before. But this time Jessie learns something about herself. She has a breakthrough. It gives potential future seasons extra promise.
Season 2 also proves the main hook, the fantasy of dating a movie star, hasn’t run out of mileage just yet. Jessie inevitably feels inadequate — she’s mistaken for a waitress at Tom’s birthday party — and Tom, ever the foil, is baffled by her occasional meltdowns. We also see a little of Tom’s family, particularly his attention-seeking brother, Vinay (Parth Thakerar). His inclusion, along with a love triangle involving an ex, ups the drama that season 1 might have been accused of lacking.
With such a narrow focus on its two leads, sometimes Starstruck leaves its supporting cast a little in the cold. Co-writer Alice Snedden, making a standout cameo as proud beer-drinker Amelia, needs far more scenes with Minnie Driver’s movie agent Cath where, based on nothing but her confidence, she attempts to convince Cath she should become an actor — “Anyone can become an actor.”
You feel it constantly in Starstruck, the bubbling, joyous, referential love for classic rom-coms. Love Actually, Casablanca, The Graduate, Pride and Prejudice, those “old” movies Jessie loves, are soaked into the paint of this dreamy, sun-drenched London. It’s a vibe you want with you constantly. When the light jazzy piano music, the actual sound of twinkling warmth, plays at the end of each episode, you sink into the sweet, sweet relief that everything’s going to be OK.
It might not be joke-a-minute comedy, but Starstruck’s bigger-on-drama second season will once again gently usher you into the frame of its lush, glowy postcard. If ever there was a time to use the phrase, “the show we need right now” — this is it.