Rose Matafeo’s rom-com series has already had its happily ever after – so what happens next?
What’s all this then?
Welcome back, Starstruck. Returning for its third season, the BBC comedy series tells the story of Jessie (Rose Matafeo), a New Zealander living in London who meets and falls in love with Tom (Nikesh Patel), a famous movie star. Starstruck’s first two seasons followed Tom and Jessie’s on-again off-again relationship as they navigated a never-ending series of misunderstandings and mix-ups on the path to true love.
Starstruck’s plot might be the flipside of Notting Hill, but this isn’t your standard Hugh Grant-type rom-com. It was created by and stars Rose Matafeo, is written by Matafeo, Alice Snedden and Nic Sampson, and is directed by Matafeo and Snedden. While that means there’s a distinct New Zealand flavour to the comedy, the drama plays out on a global stage, and the third season (which drops today on TVNZ+) continues to surprise and delight in equal measure.
Pretty much everything. Starstruck is the type of charming series that you watch with a smile on your face the entire time, and the first episode of season three is no different. It picks up where season two ended, with a newly reunited Jessie and Tom pashing in a lake. It’s the happy ending we all expect from a rom-com, but Starstruck is quick to shatter our dreams. We see a condensed history of Jessie and Tom’s relationship, watching as their love peaks and then plummets. Heartbreak, again.
Tom and Jessie’s romance may be over, but what Starstruck does from the very first moment is take our rom-com expectations and play with them, simultaneously embracing and challenging everything we think we know about romantic love. Here’s your fairytale ending, but what happens next? What if your Mr Right is simply Mr Right Now, or was actually Mr Wrong all along? And why should our romantic heroine only ever get one happy ending?
With the knowledge that Tom and Jessie are no more, there’s a jump forward of two years to the wedding of Jessie’s best mate Kate (Emma Sidi). Tom turns up to the reception, and the first time Jessie and Tom meet again is as awkward as you’d expect. All of Jessie’s friends are getting married (including Tom, engaged to another famous film star) and having babies, while Jessie is making bad wedding speeches that are appreciated only by Liam (Lorne MacFadyen), a Scottish electrician with tenuous links to the bride and groom.
It’s not long before Jessie and Liam enjoy a sneaky snog, which is another sign that Starstruck is redefining the traditional boundaries of a good rom-com. Maybe Jessie was destined to be with lovely Liam all along, even though there’s still an undeniable spark with Tom, or maybe this will evolve into a platonic love story that celebrates the joy of enduring friendship. Perhaps Starstruck isn’t just one love story, but many, and maybe, just maybe, Jessie’s happy ending will be finding true love and happiness in herself – the ultimate rom-com twist.
Whatever happens, the one constant is that Matafeo’s Jessie continues to be the most relatable rom-com hero on our screens. She’s gloriously imperfect, equally frustrating and vulnerable and brave. She’s a balm for those of us who stumble from one awkward situation to another, saying the wrong thing and being a dork, no matter how hard we try to be cool. Jessie isn’t the perfectly polished rom-com lead of the 90s. She’s one of us, and thank god for that.
It’s also a delight to see a comedy bursting with minor characters who are so richly developed that they could be in a show of their own. I would happily hoover up a sitcom about Kate’s life as a new mum, or binge my way through six wonderfully uncomfortable episodes that delve into Steve (Sampson) and Sarah’s (Lola-Rose Maxwell) tense marriage. It speaks to the richness of Matafeo, Snedden and Sampson’s writing that they can flesh out Jessie’s world with such depth, without ever taking the focus off Jessie herself.
It seems season three is steering the rom-com into new territory once again, and it couldn’t be in safer hands. Starstruck is a smart, laugh-out-loud comedy that refuses to take itself too seriously, with loveable characters who you’ll eventually want to pash in a lake, despite them all being different shades of insufferable. It’s light but never shallow, warm but never cheesy. It’s the perfect dose of sunshine to warm your heart and tickle your soul after this long, dark winter.
Season three of Starstruck screens on TVNZ 1 on Saturday at 8.30pm. All three seasons are available to stream on TVNZ+.