Starstruck | Review of Rose Matafeo's new BBC romcom © Avalon
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Starstruck

Review of Rose Matafeo's new BBC romcom

The elevator pitch for Starstruck might well be a gender-reversed Notting Hill: a romcom in which a tongue-tied ‘civilian’ falls for a Hollywood star. Hell, there’s even a paparazzi-at-the-door scene, just like the original - though it plays out very differently.

While the Hugh Grant original was a fantasy, Rose Matafeo’s endlessly pleasing take is a more realistic version of a couple groping towards a relationship they both want, but both are too awkward to express. 

Even as a handsome A-lister, the love interest, Tom, is not the slick, together guy his celebrity status might suggest. He’s just as uncomfortable feeling his way through the relationship as Matafeo’s alter-ego, Jessie, although she, too, projects an outward confidence.

Their first meeting is a drunken New Year’s Eve encounter in a gents’ nightclub toilet, which leads back to Tom’s flat. Even before she discovers the true identity of this charming man, she can’t quite believe her luck, making sure to check – even during sex, and several times at that – that the whole thing isn’t some dreadful mistake.

This becomes the start of their on-off relationship, beset by all the usual misunderstandings, jealous love rivals and unfortunate circumstances the genre requires to stand in the way of the inevitable. Jessie’s boast that they had sex when she was ‘barely drunk this time’ surely sets this budding relationship apart as the real thing! 

What sets Starstruck apart as a romcom is Matafeo’s sharp, believable writing and the playful on-screen chemistry she has with co-star Nikesh Patel, which makes it easy to root for their happy-ever-after. It’s very rare to see a TV couple with such an innate rapport that’s both easy and awkward at the same time. Their characters are instantly on the same wavelength when it comes to affectionately teasing each other, yet are unable to be candid in stating their desires, afraid of disappointment if they lay their hearts on the line.

The fact Tom’s a big star is almost irrelevant and, perhaps against expectation, he makes more of the running in getting together than Jessie. Possibly her rootless urban life as a Generation Renter, juggling jobs at a cinema box office and being a terrible nanny (to a family mothered by Sindhu Vee, no less) has taught her not to expect anything for the long term, so plays it very cool.

Two things Tom’s job does provide the series, though, are a narrative reason for him to skip out of the county for extended periods – and an excuse for an excellent episode 2 cameo from Minnie Driver as his blunt, overbearing and singularly unromantic agent.

She offers a rare barb of cynicism in a show that’s warm, optimistic and romantic - with more than enough nuance and honesty to ever risking being cloyingly so – that underlines Matafeo’s status as an assured comic voice of her generation. 

Though one question remains: why is Starstruck a BBC Three commission with a late-night terrestrial slot, when it has ‘mainstream’ written right through it?

• Starstuck is on BBC Three iPlayer now, and will air on BBC One at 10.45pm on Monday 

Review date: 25 Apr 2021
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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