In the 1990s, the big screen produced a certain kind of romantic comedy, says Lacy Baugher Milas. "They followed very specific formulas that included carefully measured doses of serotonin and heartbreak, often culminating in either incredibly grand or deeply awkward public gestures where someone has to make a big swoony speech to someone else," says Milas. "And they were awesome. From Love Actually and Never Been Kissed to Four Weddings and a Funeral and My Best Friend’s Wedding, the 1990s rom-com was a truly formative emotional vehicle for many of us. But despite its widespread popularity, the genre basically vanished overnight in the early aughts, as more action-oriented blockbusters began to dominate theaters, and studios became more interested in making raunchy comedies that happened to include elements of dating or sex rather than real romances focused on specific relationships. This is a big part of the reason that HBO Max comedy Starstruck feels like such a breath of fresh air. A throwback to the romantic comedies of yesterday that still understands and embraces its place in the contemporary television landscape, the series is a delight from start to finish, fully deserving of the steady drumbeat of word of mouth and social media buzz that built around its initial premiere last year. Perhaps we all needed the reminder that this medium doesn’t have to be quite so full of grim procedurals and angsty medical dramas, because Starstruck’s perfect mix of biting honesty and heartfelt relationship humor feels like almost nothing else on-air at the moment."
Starstruck isn’t a perfect series, but it’s a borderline perfect series of a certain type: "When the first season hit HBO Max last spring — episodes aired across the pond on BBC Three — without any pre-release buzz at all; it was like the TV version of a bowl of lemon sorbet, a charming palate cleanser from the weighty news of the world or onslaught of ponderous prestige TV," says Daniel Fienberg. "Guess what? The world hasn’t suddenly become an amuse bouche of its own, every week sees the release of five or 10 new aspiring Emmy contenders and season two of Starstruck is, once again, exactly the sort of aggressively — but somehow not excessively aggressively — likable show that requires almost no logistical planning to fit into your life."
Season 2 repeats and exacerbates the weaknesses of Season 1: "It’s such a confounding decision and a misfire to keep the show stuck in place, spinning its wheels, rather than pushing the story forward," says Nina Metz. "I had hoped that Matafeo and writing partner Alice Snedden would finally tackle the nuances of what it’s like for a non-celebrity, scraping by financially and with no real professional ambitions to speak of, who finds herself in a serious relationship with someone mega-famous and wealthy. How does that work — or not work? My issue with the new season is the way it stymies this kind of question in favor of repeating (and exacerbating) many of the previous season’s weaknesses. Jessie and Tom get together, only to break up, only to get back together again. Haven’t we already been here? Are there not new dilemmas from which to mine comedy?"
Season 2 is nearly as strong as the just-about-perfect Season 1: "With its breezy running time of 22-ish minutes, the season coincidentally totals about as long as a movie rom-com, but Starstruck doesn’t feel like someone simply hacked a film script into sixths," says Kimber Myers. "The comedy continues to take advantage of the episodic nature of television, dipping in and out of the on-again, off-again romance of aimless Jessie (creator and co-writer Rose Matafeo) and famous actor Tom (Nikesh Patel), hitting the highlights of holidays and pivotal moments in their lives over the course of a year."
Why Rose Matafeo and her writing team threw out their Season 2 scripts and started over again: “Originally, as the story goes, we had written a second series at the time we were shooting the first one, and then we were like, ‘We need to rewrite it,’” says Matafeo, who wrote Season 2 with writing partner Alice Snedden and new writer Nic Sampson. “When we got to the end of series one, we realized it would take all of the air out to have a time jump…so we just went, ‘Let’s see every moment of it unfold rather than make an audience have to put it together.’”
Matafeo was excited to write about what happens after the end of a romcom: "Sequels to romcoms are notoriously tricky, because the whole nature of a rom-com is that you end on some sort of idyllic, aspirational cliffhanger ending, where you fill in the blanks of they lived happily ever after," she says. "So it was a very unique challenge to figure out what to do after what we did at the end of Series 1 — it could have totally ended there. And we just decided to run toward what the funniest thing was to us, and the most interesting, which is like, yeah, that's a mad decision! People in rom-coms make stupid decisions out of love, and the actual fallout from those decisions is a really interesting world to live in. Season 2 feels like a turbo version of the first, where (Season 1) was a whole year and then (in Season 2) it's just two months of Jessie having a complete, absolute meltdown over the fact that she just made this massive decision on a whim, on a true whim."
Matafeo on what she loves about romantic comedies: "I honestly think I had such an affinity, a borderline obsession with them as a teenager because I think there’s something to be said for pieces of work that provide comfort for people," she says. "I’m just a fan of them and I just love any stories about love. (I'm) kind of obsessed with romance and love in a weird, almost academic way. I have such a propensity for watching rom-coms or romance films. I think because I’m a Pisces, and that says a lot about it. I’m a freak, I’m a romantic freak. And I always will be. To be able to make something that is just like this character you know you enjoy and you want to be with for six episodes I think it’s so much fun to be able to make that because (especially now) it’s such a hectic time. No one was able to go out and everyone was just missing human contact. I think it was like living vicariously through these characters in a way."
Matafeo on casting Nikesh Patel: "It was a very long process," she says. "And, to be honest, we didn't find Nikesh until very close to the end of it. Any person who is creating a rom-com knows chemistry is such a huge, huge priority when it comes to casting anything. If you don't believe the chemistry between two actors, it's like any script in the world wouldn't work. We were aware of the fact that it's a make-or-break thing to cast someone who was right for that role because if you don't, then your whole thing is f---ed. So we were very particular and when he came along, it was fantastic. We were auditioning on Zoom and doing chemistry reads on the Zoom, which was very strange. But it was a great testament to his abilities that even on the Zoom, it was like, 'Oh yeah. There's something here actually.' So then we got him in the room and this all happened."