‘Starstruck’ Season 2 Explodes Jessie And Tom’s Intimate Bubble
Messy and endearing as always, 'Starstruck' tackles an eternal question: How do you actually make a relationship work in the real world?
In the realm of onscreen romantic gestures, the scale varies from a tearful bookstore monologue to a full jazz band serenade on a set of high school bleachers.
— Warning: Spoilers for Starstruck Season 2 ahead. —
Season 1 of Starstruck, which traced the unlikely courtship between East London 20-something Jessie (Rose Matafeo) and major movie star Tom (Nikesh Patel) after a one-night stand, concluded with a significant romantic gesture: after making plans to return home to New Zealand, Jessie misses her flight by intentionally skipping her bus stop en route to the airport. In a tidy visual homage to The Graduate, the season ended with Jessie and Tom at the back of the bus, looking wordlessly ahead before breaking into an impassioned kiss.
The second season begins where the first left off, with a hilarious upending of its own emotional climax: we find the lovers by the roadside, Jessie rambling at a mile a minute, trying to rationalise her decision to stay in London for Tom yet clearly spiralling. After all, a showy romantic act can be a tiny bit forceful.
Even if it feels right in the moment, how can you be sure? Or more pressingly, how do you know the depth of your feeling is mutual, and you’re not just trapping your lover under the weight of the tender moment you’ve orchestrated? Starstruck’s protagonists both seem to want to be together, but it doesn’t make the starry-eyed ending of the first season feel any less immense. As we’re reminded only minutes into Season 2, they’ve barely even been on a real date.
So, What Now?
The first season received widespread acclaim for injecting new life into the rom-com genre thanks to co-writers Matafeo and Alice Snedden (joined in the writers’ room this time by Nic Sampson, who plays Jessie’s Kiwi pal Steve), and confirmed Matafeo’s chops as leading lady, capable of occupying a complex emotional milieu while maintaining her immense charm.
The new episodes throw Matafeo right back in it. In episode one, she drags Tom on a day of activities to avoid the reality of her adult life decision. The pair attend a street fair where Jessie scalps some tickets to Magic Mike Live, and a subsequent arcade trip yields the mysterious appearance of a giant stuffed banana. Throughout everything, Jessie’s emotional register morphs from anxiety to mania to frustration, while Tom tries to be as reassuring as possible.
It’s an impressive showcase for Matafeo, accentuating the traits that have made the character feel so lived-in all along. Season 2 Jessie is pleasurably self-assured in her neuroses, and the anxiety generated by Starstruck’s shenanigans never shakes these qualities; her self-deprecating jokes, many that they are, don’t undermine her inherent confidence. Though impetuous, Jessie remains wise about her life’s material realities. And if her discomfort in prickly social encounters spurs a pang of relatability for viewers, the writers never make the mistake of reducing her to the awkward ‘quirky girl’ persona.
Starstruck’s ensemble cast, including stars Emma Sidi and Minnie Driver, likewise returns in fine form. Particularly Sidi, consistently delightful as Jessie’s delightfully clingy but well-meaning roommate Kate, who reunites with our protagonist while in the throes of living room sex with her boyfriend (Al Roberts).
The season also delivers a collection of new characters, notably Tom’s parents (Mina Anwar and Vincent Ebrahim) and judgemental brother, Vinay (Parth Thakerar), introduced in a Christmas episode providing much-appreciated insight into the leading man’s complex family dynamic. His sparring with Vinay proves especially compelling, placing greater pressure on the disparity already at play in Jessie and Tom’s relationship (while also blessing us with some great lines).
To watch Tom actually laugh in return rather than smirking or snorting is nothing short of electric.
A moment in episode two feels especially prophetic regarding the relationship arc the season traces. After receiving a light-hearted Christmas gift from Tom — a holiday they opt to celebrate separately — Jessie sends a voice message in return, the vibe of which amounts to ‘I miss you and it’s weird but also I like it?’ Yet Tom accidentally plays the message through speakers in his parents’ home, broadcasting the dispatch to his entire family.
With this, the intimate bubble of their relationship bursts. The moment may be small, yet it’s the beginning of their private connection becoming publicly known, a process significantly intensified by Tom’s fame. While Season 1 sometimes brought the lovers momentarily into one another’s worlds, the nature of their undefined relationship was known only by a select few. Now an official couple, the season’s six episodes show them going through the motions of sharing their radically different lives while Jessie tries to resume her life in London, no longer supported by her nannying or movie theatre job.
Despite this complexity, the writing remains consistently sharp regarding Tom and Jessie’s core dynamic, founded on a delicious mix of sarcasm, earnestness and the fundamental understanding that being able to make someone genuinely laugh plays a vital role in attraction. Watching Matafeo’s character be properly conversationally funny instead of just situationally endearing feels almost radical for a rom-com heroine. And to watch Tom actually laugh in return rather than smirking or snorting is nothing short of electric.
Rom-Com, But Make It Self-Aware
The season delivers numerous jokes that play with classic rom-com tropes to place Matafeo and Patel’s warm chemistry front and centre. Episode two includes a stand-out gag wherein Jessie mimes various faux-outraged emotions in front of Tom on the off-chance someone from the Daily Mail is hiding somewhere, hoping to pap a lovers’ spat.
‘Is it weird that I stayed?’ Jessie asks Tom early in the season, perfectly articulating their dynamic in later episodes: their own feelings must be approached carefully, with a joke or healthy dash of practicality, the way people do when they’re wary of their own vulnerability. The pair go to such great efforts to accommodate one another’s feelings that it even results in some clashes, occasionally drawing their class differences to the surface.
The show has always excelled at the ‘rom-com but self-aware’ trick without being too cloying about it, and it doesn’t let us forget that the monetary loss Jessie (also Jessie’s mum) incurred by staying in London is not insignificant, while Tom’s own financial stability would be unharmed in her position.
The act of compromise is perhaps less romantically flashy than scouring multiple London cinemas to find the woman you had a one-night stand with (as Tom adorably does in Season 1) or intentionally missing a plane because you think you might be in love. But it is what real relationships must reckon with, and Starstruck understands that simply wanting to be with someone doesn’t make getting together a straightforward process. You don’t just choose somebody once in a momentous, romantic act; life continues in the aftermath, where you have to decide whether you’ll keep choosing them, despite the embarrassments of meeting their family, co-workers and old flames (not to mention fans), of reconciling differences and coming to terms with your own wants and needs.
But even so, love is a very funny thing — carrying it around feels as absurd as sitting next to a giant plush banana at Magic Mike Live. It’s an obtrusive, awkwardly shaped vulnerability you’d actually really like to hang onto. Starstruck’s new season considers how something substantial might be made from the aftermath of a grand romantic gesture, as Jessie and Tom try to fit the chemistry and banter of season one into the shape of a caring, functional relationship. Unsurprisingly, the show handles this shift with grace and wit.
Starstruck Season 2 will premiere on ABC on February 16 at 9pm. All episodes of Season 2 are available now on ABC iView.
Tiia Kelly is a freelance film writer from Melbourne with bylines in The Guardian, Kill Your Darlings, The Big Issue, Overland, Screen Queens, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo Credits: ABC