The best comedies, the greats, often feature people you wouldn’t want to spend any time with if you were unfortunate to bump into them at a dinner party or a bus stop. The best recent examples are This Country and BBC Two’s Mum. We loved those shows, but we’d cross the street to avoid a conversation or confrontation with Kerry, Big Mandy from This Country or Pauline from Mum. British comedy has always relied on the ‘loveable’ but awful person at its centre. From Victor Meldrew, Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter, David Brent and Alan Partridge, we’ve always come to expect not to like the leads in our comedies, but to warm to them over time.
Perhaps because of this, Rose Matefeyo and Alice Snedden’s new BBC3 comedy Starstruck feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s also a joyful slice of pre-pandemic romance. The show is about two lovely people. I’ve seen people calling it Gen Z’s Notting Hill, but it’s much better than that. And much, much funnier.
Jessie (Rose Matefeyo) and her love interest Tom (Nikesh Patel) meet at a New Year’s Eve event at a club in East London; like an ancient relic of BCT (Before Covid Times). She’s dressed up in sequins and high heels, getting drunk with her friends. Remember that? Skillfully avoiding the dull cryptocurrencies guy, but happy to accept his drinks, she sneaks in to use the men’s toilets and meets someone quite different. This meet-cute had me on edge, not because of the drama, but because thanks to Covid all I can see now is Jessie touching her face before washing her hands. Yuck!
Tom is lovely and very handsome, but Jessie plays it cool, right up until they’re sucking face in the back of a taxi. One thing swiftly leads to another, and while she’s on top, mid-way through the deed, a very drunk Jessie decides she’d best have the consent chat. This is very funny. The reveal of Tom’s movie poster is also great. She’s furious he’s kept his identity from her, but he’s in fact he’s told her all about his acting career; she was just too drunk to remember.
Nikesh and Rose are great together; their conversations are very cute, very cheeky, and very natural. I really buy their awkward moments together too. And awkwardness abounds, as she worries about her new place in the world now she’s slept with a famous actor. Her friends are delightfully, painfully honest, exactly as best friends would be, describing her as a “little rat nobody”, shocked that Tom would even look her way. The gap between famous and regular people is a rich seam of comedy, with fish-out-of-water moments for them both, with neither portrayed as better than the other. Jessie and Tom are equals in this relationship.
In fact, all the characters are very likeable; Jessie’s over-eager flatmate Kate (Emma Sidi), their fairly useless male friends who seem to be constant dinner-party guests, her colleagues at the cinema, and her boss played Sindhu Vee, employing Jessie (in her second part-time going-nowhere job) as possibly the world’s worst au pair. This is not the fashion in comedy, certainly since Fleabag and arguably way back to The Office and beyond. Occasionally I just want to spend my time in the presence of funny, warm characters. Sure, they’re coping with everyday troubles, but they have no tragic backstory or bleak interior monologue. Can we please have a comedy where there’s no need for national helpline numbers to be advertised over the credits? Starstruck is a really welcome shift in tone and with funding for BBC comedy perpetually under threat this is just the sort of series that shows its value. To misquote the internet, get yourself a broadcaster that can do both!
The end of episode one is a classic setup where everything would be simple if people just talked to each other – “I found some photos of another woman in your house and now I feel insecure”. But of course, romcoms never play out like that. Everyone is too embarrassed or overwhelmed to say how they really feel, and the character’s lives get in the way of the happy ending they deserve. Tom and Jessie’s story takes place over the course of a year and we see more of their lives, separate and intertwined, over the changing seasons.
I’d say Starstruck is a treat for the eyeballs, it might sound daft, but it really is. Every location is gorgeous, not just the fancy houses of her wealthy friends, but Jessie and Kate’s flat, the cinema, the florists, and the exteriors of cobble-stone streets bathed in blue neon light. It’s not often London looks this nice. The canal is used in a very special moment at the start of episode two, but you’ll get no spoilers from me! The performances, the characters and the story are a treat for the soul, charming and funny, all while feeling quite natural and without trying too hard. Each episode leaves you feeling better than you did before. And that’s pretty amazing.
Contributed by Sarah Kennedy
Starstruck airs at 10.35pm Monday’s on BBC One and is available as a full boxset on BBC iPlayer.