Swoon: Three Seasons in, Rose Matafeo's 'Starstruck' Keeps Proving a Perfect Rom-Com Sitcom
What happens after you've lived the 'Notting Hill' life and had a moment right out of 'The Notebook'? That's the latest question in this charming romantic-comedy series.
September 06, 2023
Living up to its splendid first date with audiences has never been a problem for Starstruck. When the Rose Matafeo (Baby Done)-starring BBC and HBO series first strode into streaming queues in 2021, its initial episode was an all-timer in the charming stakes, as was the show's entire six-instalment debut season. When Starstruck returned for a second run in 2022, its next go-around instantly proved as much of a smart, savvy and charismatic delight. Streaming via ABC iView from 9.30pm on Wednesday, September 6 and in New Zealand via TVNZ+ since 8.30pm on Saturday, September 2, season three continues the trend — and keeps demonstrating that no romantic rendezvous, no matter how idyllic, can just keep repeating itself.
Plot-wise, Starstruck has always had one couple at its centre: New Zealander-in-London Jessie (Matafeo) and British actor Tom (Nikesh Patel, Four Weddings and a Funeral). Frequently, however, they're not actually together, with the show charting the ins and outs of a complicated relationship that started with a New Year's Eve meet-cute and one-night stand. The hook from the get-go: that Tom is an A-list star, which Jessie doesn't know until after they've hooked up. So, Starstruck asks what it's like to live the Notting Hill life. In season three, more accurately, it ponders what comes after that's been and gone. Season two might've finished with a scene right out of The Notebook, and with echoes of Bridget Jones' Diary as well, but its follow-up quickly establishes that Jessie and Tom didn't get their happy-ever-after ending — they're no longer together, and haven't been for some time.
Starstruck season three starts with a bold move, spending a few minutes zipping through Jessie and Tom's romance since season two via a heartbreaking montage. That choice is also deeply fitting for a show that's exceptional at endings. One of the best newcomers of its debut year and best returning series of its second, Starstruck's excellence is like a perfect bouquet, with vibrancy blooming everywhere — in Matafeo's lead performance, the show's ability to unpack a genre it clearly loves, its glorious nods to rom-coms past, and its astute insights into 2020s-era dating and life, to name a mere few. How its star, creator and co-writer wrapped up both season one and two was equally as sublime, though. So, season three goes all in on something cherished and blissful approaching its conclusion.
If that train of thought has you wondering if this is it for Starstruck itself, a fourth season hasn't yet been locked in. The green light for season three came four months after season two dropped, so not having a future confirmed so far isn't an ominous sign for fans. Matafeo and co-scribes Alice Snedden and Nic Sampson have always treated their series as something to treasure there and then, too; it's the epitome of revelling in the here and now, as anyone in love should. No one knows where life will take them, including Starstruck's guiding hands. So, every season could put a bow on the tale and say farewell — but unboxing more after each finale, whether it involves a The Graduate-style stint on a bus or frolicking in a pond, wouldn't destroy the storytelling, either.
Thanks its rush through Jessie and Tom's attempts to make their relationship work, then its huge leap forward afterwards, as much time has passed in Starstruck's world as it has for viewers. Two weddings now loom over the narrative: Jessie's now-pregnant best friend Kate's (Emma Sidi, Black Ops) to Ian (Al Roberts, What We Do in the Shadows), and Tom's to his fellow-actor fiancée Clem (Constance Labbé, Balthazar). It's at the first set of nuptials that Jessie and Tom cross paths again, sparking a torrent of emotions that neither has worked past (some knowingly, some not). While awkwardly trying to avoid her ex and endeavouring to make it appear that she has powered on happily without him, Jessie also connects with kindly Scottish electrician Liam (Lorne MacFadyen, Operation Mincemeat).
Chronicling Jessie's blossoming bond with someone other than Tom might seem like another of Starstruck's bold season-three moves, but it's a vintage choice for a series that's obsessed with tearing into rom-com tropes. The idea that there's only one big, sweeping, heart-aflutter, existence-defining affair in anyone's life is foundational in the romantic-comedy genre, and yet that's rarely a guaranteed outcome. In a six-episode batch that's as bingeable as ever, Starstruck grapples with grappling with that fact. Jessie and Tom keep tumbling back into each other's orbits, finding themselves caught between yearning for yesterday, wishing today was different and forging a fresh tomorrow — and tossing and turning over which outcome they want. Deepening their dilemma is Starstruck's focus on reaching that late-20s, early-30s stage where committing and picking a way forward is the norm. Indeed, instead of the tension between the celebrity realm and everyday existence, this season's main clash arises from the contrast between getting settled and still feeling like you'll never have it together.
There Starstruck goes, interrogating rom-com conventions again, including the notion that falling in love immediately solves or smooths life's other messes. It's no wonder that the sitcom has become one of the most-relatable romantic comedies there is — and best all round. In the show's writing, performances and directing alike, Matafeo and company understand why their chosen genre spins the fantasies it does. They're well-aware why audiences swoon over such tales as well. And, they're eager to face the reality, but with warmth, humour and empathy. Starstruck's version of laying the truth bare: a sidesplittingly frank chat directed Jessie's way, where she's told that her life mightn't be living up to her wildest dreams but, given that she has a house and a job — and she's "not even that bad of a person" — it's actually not awful. There goes Starstruck's main season-three takeaway again, as given voice: "just appreciate what you have while you have it".
Being grateful for this wonderful sitcom as a whole, and for Matafeo's luminous turn at its centre, isn't just easy — it's automatic. Season after season, Starstruck keeps painting a portrait of love, life, friendship and chaos that's both clear-eyed and rosily affectionate, complete with fleshed-out and lived-in performances that embrace the fact that every person and every romance has flaws and joys in tandem. This far in, Jessie, Tom, Kate, their pals and partners are as rich and resonant as any group of long-term friends and acquaintances on-screen and -off. Matafeo, Patel, Sidi and their co-stars' efforts are also that emotionally honest. Everything about Starstruck keeps evolving, too, other than how stellar it has always been.
Check out the trailer for Starstruck season three below:
Starstruck's first and second seasons are also available to stream in Australia via ABC iView and in New Zealand via TVNZ+. Read our full review of Starstruck's first season — and our full review of its second season, too.
Images: Mark Johnson/HBO Max.
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