Much of the beauty of Starstruck is in its brevity, which may sound like a slight, but it’s really a full-throated endorsement. Each of the six episodes is perfectly bite-sized, making the entire season, whether enjoyed in one sitting or spread across several, a delectable treat that perfectly satiates your need for comedy and romance, while leaving your taste buds ready for more, more, more of Rose Matafeo’s well-balanced salty and sweet confection.
The second season picks up exactly where the first one left off: On the bus as Jessie (Rose Matafeo) chooses to stay in London with Tom (Nikesh Patel) rather than move back to New Zealand. After they get off the bus Jessie proceeds to freak out about all the important things, like having booked window seats and gluten-free meals on her flights, and how upset her mom will be because she already put clean sheets on the guest bed. Entirely relatable.
At one point she points out that she was going to watch Dunkirk and now she’ll never see it. Tom offers that they can watch it together. “On the ground? In a house? Don’t be ridiculous, man!” moans Jessie. Tom tries to be supportive while also attempting to explain to his very upset agent (Minnie Driver) why he’s not yet on his way to Ireland to begin work on a film. I don’t know if it’s that I haven’t seen Minnie Driver in anything else recently, but she struck me as particularly over-the-top and hilarious this season. More Minnie Driver, please!
Whereas last season took place over the course of an entire year, with Jessie and Tom periodically dropping into each other’s lives, this one sticks to a more compact time-frame. Most of the conflict stems from the fact that, while Jessie has made the decision to stay, she’s still absolutely fucking terrified of this relationship. Or really, of any of her own feelings. (And yes, it’s also that she doesn’t need a relationship with him to complete her, which is great and we need much more of in rom-coms.) When Tom refers to the breakfast they’re having after she doesn’t get on the plane as their “first date,” Jessie sucks in air and says in a low voice, “Um, ew. Okay.” Later, she leaves him a voicemail telling him that she misses him, which she follows up by saying, “which is gross. It’s a very gross thing to say.” When she thought she was leaving London for good, she sat down and wrote people very open and honest letters, which, now that she’s staying, she does her best to intercept before her friends can read them. She tells Kate, “Oh my God. This is so embarrassing. I told so many people I love them, and now I have to see them again. This is a disaster.” She even wrote Tom a letter, though it, along with her ability to be fully invested in the relationship, is hidden safely away in a drawer. While it’s incredibly frustrating to watch someone unable to step outside their protective bubble of jokes, witty asides, and cutting remarks, it is both realistic and an excellent device for maintaining tension in a rom-com while still getting to watch the couple be together.
Tom, on the other hand, is more than ready to move forward with their relationship. He invites her home for Christmas with his family, which Jessie assumes he does only to be polite, so she declines to be even more polite. But it seems like Tom could really use Jessie to serve as buffer between himself and his constantly chafing family who dislike his movies, still pine for his ex-girlfriend, and generally lambast him for everything. Inside his parents’ house, he’s not the Tom Famous (as Jessie still has him saved in her phone), he’s just Tom the Son Who Didn’t Bring Wine for His Mom and Got His Dad the Wrong Present and Isn’t a Pediatric Surgeon Like his Brother Vinay (Parth Thakerar). Jessie, of course, misses learning all of this because she chooses to spend Christmas very much alone, a choice that she pretty much immediately regrets, but stubbornly holds on to because, well, see everything I said before. It is nice that we get to learn all this (and more) about Tom because it deepens his character, who is often (and rightly so) overshadowed by Jessie’s character.
There’s a brief scene in the second episode where Jessie is watching one of The Thin Man movies on her laptop. In the movie, Nick (William Powell) advances toward a closed door, his hand reaching for the knob, as he calls out Nora’s (Myrna Loy) name. Watching this unfold while curled on her couch, Jessie cringes and says, “No, no. Don’t go in there. What are you doing?” I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it’s an excellent representation of how you will likely feel during much of this season while watching Jessie mucking around and fucking up as she tries be in a relationship with Tom while also trying to cooly maintain her distance to avoid getting hurt. Oh sweet stranger, we all know that never, ever works. Your heart runs the risk of getting broken either way, and everyone is going to feel like trash. Instead of looking for the ways they fit, she only sees the ways in which they’re different from each other, and worries she doesn’t belong in his world.
One of those letters Jessie sent went to her ex-boyfriend Ben (Edward Easton), who takes all the honest and hateful things she wrote to him as an invitation to wheedle his way back into her life. Ben rhymes with pathogen and he’s a toxic, slimy, passive aggressive, past his sell-by-date, ex-boyfriend with nothing to offer but soggy memories that, through the haze of time, make him appear safe, which he’s definitely not. It’s definitely one of those moments when you want Jessie to be able to hear you through the laptop and just stop!!
But she can’t, so you’re going to have to watch her make a series of bad choices that will ultimately lead her to some really important realizations, which will lead to the culmination of season two, which is pretty frickin’ romantic and, of course, extremely funny. If I had any complaints about this season it would be that Jessie almost never lets down her guard, so it’s just one pithy joke after another, but, at the same time, that’s really the whole point of this season, and without it the end wouldn’t be as poignant. So, basically, no notes. Watch. Enjoy. Join me in hoping for a Season 3. Sign my petition for more Minnie Driver.