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28 April 2021

BBC Three’s Starstruck is a sweet and funny romcom

It’s a bit like Fleabag, only minus the self-loathing, the existential angst and, most noticeably, the Hot Priest. 

By Rachel Cooke

Some people will find the premise of Starstruck (26 April, 10.45pm), in which a tipsy young woman unexpectedly goes home with a man whose fame she has completely failed to spot, somewhat preposterous. But alas, I’m not one of them. OK, so I’ve never (so far as I’m aware) collapsed drunkenly into bed with an international movie star. However, in my nightclubbing days, there was a famous incident in which I copped off with a boy I’d fancied forever, only to discover when we met again in the cruel light of day that the person who’d fallen into my arms on the dance floor was, in fact, his little brother. This is the thing with beer goggles (or in my case, Cinzano and lemonade goggles). Mix-ups do occasionally occur.

But this is not a confessional. Starstruck, co-written by and starring the comedian Rose Matafeo, is a bit like Fleabag, only minus the self-loathing, the existential angst and, most noticeably, the Hot Priest. When it begins it is New Year’s Eve, and Jessie (Matafeo) and her flatmate Kate (Emma Sidi) are in a London club waiting – and waiting – for midnight. Kate has managed to pick up a guy who keeps droning on about Bitcoin, and as she shouts at him over the din, Jessie, in rainbow sequins, heads for the bar. There, she meets Tom (Nikesh Patel) – and yes, he does look vaguely familiar. “Do you work at the Shepherd’s Bush Hippodrome?” she asks him.

[See also: I Can See Your Voice sticks two fingers up to the TV singing contest]

Five seconds later, they’re in his loft, in bed. Only in the morning, when she’s trying to scarper before he wakes up, does she realise (courtesy of a promo poster in his kitchen) that she got a tiny bit luckier than she imagined. Of course, she’ll never see him again. But who cares? The whole thing is brilliant. “I am forever a stain on his sexual history!” she tells Kate, delightedly, back at home.

Starstruck is sweet and sometimes quite funny, and Matafeo is mostly winning. I like its element of fantasy, which turns on the idea that love between the famous and the non-famous might be possible, even desirable (like adoring barrage balloons, the latter keep the feet of the former firmly on the ground, something we’re encouraged to believe that they, the famous, find quite wonderful). It’s like Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, only, um, earthier. I liked the scene when Jessie emerges from Tom’s flat the next morning, and the disappointed paparazzi take her for his cleaner: she’s so relieved she won’t end up in the Daily Mail, she grabs the nearest rubbish bag and drags it happily towards the bins. Even better, in later episodes – the whole series is on iPlayer – Minnie Driver plays Tom’s awful agent with such knowing aplomb, you’ll instantly become her new number one fan (“If you think about eating bread, call me and I’ll talk you down”).

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[See also: The Apology Line is a curious, compelling listen]

But there is a problem, and it is, if you like, Hot Priest-related. What I mean is that it has to do with electricity. Patel is wildly miscast as Tom, and not only because it’s hard to believe he is famous (if he is in possession of any charisma, he must have hidden it under the photographs of his ex in a drawer in his bedside table). He and Matafeo have no chemistry at all, so while I was able to accept her gin-induced brain fog, I did not believe for a minute in her unbridled morning sex with Tom. Why did either of them want it, especially given no one had brushed their teeth?

When Tom later tracked her down and persuaded her to have a drink with him – a running joke in Starstruck is that even once she knows who he is, Jessie soon reverts to her customary mode, which is to be eternally unimpressed – there was something so limp about it. Apparently they like each other. You’d never know it, though.

[See also: Kate Winslet gives a fierce, fearless performance in Mare of Easttown]

Still, the good news, if you live in London or visit it regularly, is that the city appears to be hardly bigger than a village. If you are reading this and pining for a movie star whose duvet you recently shared – or for anyone at all, in fact – fear not. Walk out the door, and they’ll be standing obligingly on the next street corner, gooey-eyed, just waiting for you to pass by.

BBC Three

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This article appears in the 28 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The new battle of ideas