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TV Review: Starstruck - A Refreshingly Authentic Take on Modern Love and Relationships

By Joao Nsita

Starstruck | HBO/BBC
Starstruck | HBO/BBC

In the ever-expanding landscape of romantic comedies, it's rare to find a show that manages to subvert the genre's tropes while still delivering a genuinely heartfelt and relatable story. However, HBO Max's latest offering, "Starstruck," achieves just that, thanks to the brilliant writing and captivating performance of its creator and star, Rose Matafeo.

Co-written by Matafeo and Alice Snedden, "Starstruck" follows the story of Jessie (Matafeo), a twenty-something New Zealander living in London, who finds herself in an unlikely romance with Tom (Nikesh Patel), a famous movie star. The premise might sound familiar, but the show's execution is anything but cliché.

From the very first episode, "Starstruck" sets itself apart by embracing the awkwardness and uncertainty that often comes with new relationships. The show's central meet-cute, which takes place in the unglamorous setting of a bathroom, perfectly sets the tone for the series. Jessie and Tom's interactions are filled with the kind of awkward pauses and fumbled conversations that feel all too real, making their budding romance all the more relatable and endearing.

One of the show's greatest strengths is its resistance to falling into the typical rom-com trap of having its protagonist become entirely consumed by their new love interest. Instead, Jessie continues to live her life, pursuing her own interests and maintaining her existing relationships. This not only makes her a more well-rounded and likable character but also allows the show to explore the complexities of balancing a new romance with personal growth and independence.

Matafeo's performance as Jessie is nothing short of brilliant. She brings a raw authenticity to the role, effortlessly navigating the character's insecurities, quirks, and moments of self-doubt. Her comedic timing is impeccable, delivering witty one-liners and physical gags with equal skill. However, it's in the quieter, more vulnerable moments that Matafeo truly shines, conveying the depth of Jessie's emotions with a subtle nuance that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Starstruck | HBO/BBC
Starstruck | HBO/BBC

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with standout performances from Emma Sidi as Jessie's fiercely loyal and brutally honest flatmate, Kate, and Sindhu Vee as her perpetually unimpressed boss. These characters not only provide some of the show's funniest moments but also serve as a grounding presence in Jessie's life, reminding her (and the audience) that there's more to life than romance.

One of the most refreshing aspects of "Starstruck" is its approach to Tom's celebrity status. Rather than making it the focal point of the series, the show treats it as more of a background element, allowing the focus to remain on the developing relationship between Jessie and Tom. This not only keeps the story grounded but also allows for a more nuanced exploration of the challenges and insecurities that can arise when dating someone in the public eye.

The show's pacing is another area where it excels. Set over the course of a year, the six-episode season allows for a natural progression of Jessie and Tom's relationship, from the initial spark of attraction to the inevitable ups and downs that come with any new romance. The time jumps between episodes never feel jarring, instead serving to highlight the organic growth and evolution of the characters and their relationship.

Visually, "Starstruck" is a treat, with director Karen Maine bringing a keen eye for detail and a sense of intimacy to each scene. The show's London setting is beautifully captured, with the city's vibrant energy and diverse neighborhoods serving as the perfect backdrop for Jessie and Tom's story.

Starstruck | HBO/BBC
Starstruck | HBO/BBC

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of "Starstruck" is its ability to balance humor and heart. The show is undeniably funny, with sharp, witty dialogue and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. However, it never sacrifices emotional depth for the sake of a punchline. Instead, the humor feels organic, arising naturally from the characters and their situations, and serving to enhance the show's more poignant moments.

In a genre that often relies on grand gestures and unrealistic fairy-tale endings, "Starstruck" stands out for its commitment to authenticity. The show doesn't shy away from the messy, complicated realities of modern love, instead embracing them with honesty and compassion. It's a testament to the strength of Matafeo and Snedden's writing that the show manages to be both hilarious and heartfelt, often within the same scene.

As the series progresses, it becomes clear that "Starstruck" is not just a love story between Jessie and Tom, but also a love letter to self-discovery and personal growth. Jessie's journey throughout the season is one of learning to trust herself, to take risks, and to embrace the uncertainty that comes with stepping outside of one's comfort zone. It's a message that feels particularly poignant in today's world, where the pressure to have it all figured out can often feel overwhelming.

In the end, "Starstruck" is a triumph of both comedy and storytelling. It's a show that will make you laugh, cry, and everything in between, all while reminding you of the beauty and messiness of being human. With its talented cast, brilliant writing, and refreshing take on the rom-com genre, "Starstruck" is not just a must-watch, but a must-rewatch.

As the season comes to a close, it's impossible not to feel invested in Jessie and Tom's story, and in Jessie's personal journey. The final episodes deliver some of the show's most poignant and heartfelt moments, as well as some of its biggest laughs. It's a testament to the show's strength that it manages to tie up its various threads in a way that feels both satisfying and realistic, leaving the door open for future seasons while still providing a sense of closure.

In a television landscape that often feels oversaturated with content, "Starstruck" is a true gem. It's a show that reminds us of the power of authentic storytelling, and of the joy that can be found in the everyday moments of life and love. With its perfect blend of humor, heart, and humanity, "Starstruck" is not just one of the best new shows of the year, but a new classic in the making.

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