In Starstruck, an early contender for the best comedy of the year, a twentysomething woman called Jessie has sex with a film star without realising that he’s famous. It’s a bit like Notting Hill, only if Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts had drunkenly got off with each other in an Uber hours after meeting and Hugh couldn’t get on the property ladder. This is not a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking her to love him. This is a girl, congratulating a boy, because he made her laugh and usually she doesn’t usually find men funny.
The show is the brainchild of New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo, who picked up the Edinburgh Comedy Award for her fizzily joyful stand-up show Horndog in 2018; she plays Jessie, and co-wrote the show with her pal Alice Snedden. We already knew Matafeo was funny, but with Starstruck, she’s brought the giddy, exuberant tone of her stand-up to create something that feels enormously confident and unique in tone. Seriously: one of the episodes starts with Jessie doing a spontaneous dance routine to Return of the Mack beside a London canal after sleeping with a man on a houseboat. It’s glorious.
The first episode sees Jessie dragged along to a club on New Year’s Eve with her flatmate and best friend Kate (Emma Sidi), conveyed with such sweaty authenticity that it’s an achievement itself that this was filmed during the pandemic. Jessie then employs the ultimate life hack – going into an empty men’s toilet instead of standing cross-legged in a queue for twenty minutes to go to the ladies – and there she meets Tom (a deliciously deadpan Nikesh Patel). They hit it off, and before we know it, the aforementioned Uber-based snogging is happening. It turns out that Tom did tell her that he was an actor – to which she drunkenly replied, “ugh, no thanks” while eating a bowl of cereal – but by the next morning, Jessie has no recollection of that conversation. She saves his number on her phone under the name ‘Tom Famous’ and walks into a waiting pack of paparazzi when she leaves his flat, before the photographers let her off the hook – they mistakenly think she’s “just the cleaner”.
From there begins a charming, mischievous will-they won’t-they, executed to perfection thanks to the sparkly chemistry between Matafeo and Patel. Some of the comedy comes from the fact that Jessie is initially too busy experiencing the whole saga as a funny anecdote to tell her friend, rather than noticing that Tom actually quite likes her. (Why else would he go to every cinema in Hackney to try and return an iPhone charger that doesn’t really belong to her?) “YOU’RE GOING TO GO TO THE OSCARS!!!” her flatmate shout-whispers when he comes back to use their toilet after they’ve been for a drink. The whole thing is manna from heaven for rom-com fans who have previously had to shoulder the burden of enjoying Richard Curtis films while looking askance at their terrible gender politics. It’s also a relief to see a twentysomething in London who doesn’t live in a high ceiling-ed art deco townhouse and appear to do nothing during the day to actually pay for it.
Matafeo is the undoubted star; she has a natural, easy presence in front of the camera that makes her effortless fun to watch. But this is a team triumph, too. The writing is sharp and quick-witted, but it can also be warm and cosy, without slipping into sentimentality or cliches. Karen Maine’s directing confidently handles all of these rhythms, and the show features some of the funniest ensemble comedy acting since Stath Lets Flats. There’s Patel as the effortlessly charismatic Tom, who is very good at witty, top-tier flirting; Emma Sidi as her uptight flatmate, who purrs “honestly fine, honestly fine” down the phone to a dinner party dropout, then emits a bloodcurdling cry for help immediately after hanging up; Al Roberts as Ian, Kate’s new boyfriend, who charms her by monologuing about Bitcoin; and Joe Barnes as Jessie’s cinema colleague, who is so helplessly in love with her that he brings two extra chairs from home for her flatmate’s murder mystery party. There’s also a resplendent, scene-stealing cameo from Minnie Driver as Tom’s agent, who warns him not to f*** “civilians” and that she will “talk him down” if he’s planning on eating bread.
It’s a joy - and it confirms Matafeo as an exciting, unignorably talented voice. The fact that a second series has already been commissioned suggests I’m not the only person who thinks so. Matafeo has created a freewheeling, feminist comedy that is sunny, smart, silly and relatable (OK, maybe not the film star thing. Hugh Grant – call me?) and it should make her into a star.
All episodes of Starstruck are available on BBC iPlayer from tonight (Sunday 25 April); episodes air on BBC One at 10.45pm on Mondays