Uh, yes, please and thank you. I very much enjoyed gorging my eyeballs on all the sticky opposites-attract romantical entanglements, witty comedic banter, and will-they, won’t-they tension that Starstruck serves up. Did I initially squeal when I saw Nikesh Patel and his Genetically Blessed Face appear in the trailer? I absolutely did, which is an entirely appropriate response. I mean, have you seen the man and his scorchingly hot longing looks for his forbidden lover in Indian Summers? It gives me the vapors just thinking about it. But I’m getting distracted, because what I didn’t know is that I also should have been squealing about Rose Matafeo whose character is electrifying, hilarious, smart, and relatable. Plus, you know, Matafeo wrote and created the whole show. She’s getting all my squeals from here on out. Okay, well, at least three quarters of them because, once again, I refer you to Indian Summers and Nikesh Patel’s undergarment-melting gazes. The worst part about Starstruck is that there are only six twenty-two minute episodes, which are, unless you have willpower far stronger than mine, easily consumed in one sitting. But fear not! A second season is already in the works.
Jessie (Rose Matafeos) is out celebrating New Year’s Eve with her best friend Kate (Emma Sidi) at a bar in London (very much against her better judgement and wishes). She’s spent the night listening to a finance guy explain what they should invest in (aluminum and bitcoin), a spiel that has Kate on tenterhooks and Jessie risking permanent eyeball strain from such forceful rolling.
To avoid the long wait for the women’s bathroom, a tipsy Jessie ducks into the seemingly empty men’s room where she pees and then entertains herself by saying things like “James, James Bond” and “Jessie is drunk!” to her reflection in the mirror. She doesn’t realize she’s being overheard until a very attractive man (Nikesh Patel) emerges from one of the bathroom stalls. He gives her a hard time about getting the Bond line wrong and she is scandalized that he would choose to pee sitting down when he has the gift of being able to do it standing. She accuses him of peeing in a gift horse’s mouth. Basically, instant crackling chemistry and banter abounds!
Seriously, I thought to myself, I could listen to these two crack jokes all day. Which is a good thing to think because it’s what they’re going to do for a lot of the show. (I would just like to say that in all the times I’ve used the men’s room to avoid a long line for the women’s, the only thing I’ve found (generally speaking) is an absolutely disgusting cesspool of a mess that make me wonder how men have managed to stay alive, let alone maintain an iron grip on power. Clearly I’ve been skipping lines in all the wrong places. Also, there should always be more space for women’s bathrooms than for men’s.) Anyway, they meet up again at the bar where she’s positive he works at a local drugstore and he’s positive he doesn’t, which leads to banter about whether, since she thinks the drugstore guy is hot, she also thinks he is hot. It’s good banter, which leads to them hooking up.
The next morning, she wakes up at his place (wearing, may I add, a very fantastic chartreuse bra) with only vague memories of having sex, eating cereal, and learning that he is the actor Tom Kapoor. In a flashback, we see that when he first told her, over drunken, post-coital bowls of cereal, that he’s an actor she responded with, “Ew. No, thank you.” And she’s even more freaked out by the whole thing in the stark light of almost-not-drunk morning, which she tells him in no uncertain terms. And that kind of awkward and open honesty is the beauty of their back-and-forth with each other. Sure, there are things left unsaid and miscommunications; it wouldn’t be a rom-com without them, but there isn’t subterfuge or pretending to be someone else or trying too hard in order to jump-start a relationship. From their first meeting in a bathroom suspiciously free of vomit and clumps of soggy toilet paper, they (and Jessie especially) say exactly what they’re thinking. That first morning together they both admit that they can’t climax when drunk and therefore faked their orgasms, which then turns into a very friendly competition to prove their sexual prowess. The whole thing is adorable and hilarious and so very refreshing.
Obviously, they can’t stay in a happy bubble of togetherness for the entire series, so it’s not a surprise when a discovery sends Jessie running away from Tom without any explanation. The next five episodes are spaced over the course of the year—taking place in Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Christmas—and drop us into their lives as they try to figure out their place (if any) with each other. What keeps them apart is their own emotional guardedness, their unsureness about whether they can make it work with someone in such a different place, but their kindred sense of humor and sense of ease with each other keeps drawing them back together. And were I to critique anything about the show, which I don’t really want to do, but were I to do it. What? Honesty? I was just talking about it, you say. Whatever. Fine. Because the show is only six twenty-two minute episodes that, by design, remain fairly narrowly focused on the relationship between Jessie and Tom and leave a lot of space for comedic conversations, we don’t get to know a whole lot about their characters’ backstories. We know that Tom is dissatisfied with the roles he’s getting as an actor, which may be why he’s so attracted to the way that Jessie never shies away from telling him a movie he’s in is absolute trash. We know that Jessie feels unfulfilled in her life as a half-assed nanny and a movie theater employee, though we don’t know exactly how she ended up a New Zealander working those jobs in London. Hopefully in the second season there will be room to develop their backstories and characters a bit more. Also, since you’re forcing me to complain about things (this is all your fault), there is a scene where someone mistakenly consumes a pot-laced brownie, which is just a tired trope and adds to unnecessary drug hysteria. But, even this is handled with such candor that the scene feels intimate, vulnerable, and genuine. I know! I’m shocked I’m saying this about a pot brownie scene as well, but sometimes there’s room for hope in even your least favorite tropes!
As I said before, this is Rose Matafeo’s show, and it’s her character of Jessie—confident, flawed, and wickedly funny—who sparkles throughout the series. While Tom is the big celebrity that makes Jessie’s friends sputter like leaky hoses and wonder aloud if he had sex with her on purpose when he drops by the apartment, he’s clearly the one pursuing Jessie, which makes sense because, even though Kate lovingly tells her that she’s “just a rat-faced nobody,” Jessie’s a total catch. There’s a scene in the second episode where she dances her way home after a one night stand that is wordless and extremely funny.
I also greatly enjoyed the part where she tells Tom, “I don’t usually find men funny, so that’s a real win for you.” But, of course, the show acknowledges that the rest of the world doesn’t exactly see her as perfection. Once, when leaving Tom’s apartment, Jessie is spotted by the paparazzi who begin snapping pictures until one of them shouts that it’s “just the cleaner” before apologizing, telling her it’s honest work, and turning away.
Jessie is both relieved to escape unnoticed and appalled by their assumptions. It’s such a small quiet moment that speaks volumes. And of course, the outside opinions are part of what makes her doubt whether pursuing a relationship with Tom is a good idea at all, even though she clearly has some very strong feelings for him. The thing is, though, that Jessie never waits around for Tom, she may miss him or be stung by a fight, but she has the self-assurance to keep living her life. When you see independence like that, you realize how much you miss seeing it for women in other rom-coms. You know? The same for seeing the woman being funnier than the man. It was damn nice to watch Tom laugh at and play straight man to all of Jessie’s jokes. (This, my friends, is yet another reason we need more women actually writing the characters in the rom-coms!)
Jessie is largely supported by her roommate Kate, who takes murder mystery nights, custard, and her love for Jessie extremely seriously. She’s a bundle of strong opinions and funny lines and I would like her to be my friend, with no offense meant to my already wonderful friends.
Ugh. Look. Phrases like “rare find” and “refreshing ” get so overused that they become meaningless, but they’re justified when it comes to this show, which lives up to every expectation I had and some I didn’t know I should have had. I mean, this show is the watching equivalent of eating a perfectly ripe peach on a midsummer day; delicious and juicy with just enough acidity to balance the sweetness, and devoured far too quickly. Thankfully, for peaches and Starstruck, you know there will be more next season.