The beginning of HBO Max’s “Starstruck,” which premieres on Thursday, is a little absurd. It’s New Year’s Eve, London twentysomething Jessie (Rose Matafeo) is at a club, and she winds up having a bathroom meet-cute with movie star Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel) and sleeping with him without knowing he’s famous. The otherwise hip Jessie would most likely recognize him, and then Tom would most likely have his people with him, and strangers would most likely be fawning over him, and his stardom would most likely be like a neon sign on his back. If Chris Hemsworth were at a bar, there would be a palpable buzz.
But it hardly matters. “Starstruck” is a charmer, despite it’s unlikelihoods and its conventional “Notting Hill”-esque moves. If you like rom-coms, and you must if you decide to watch, then you won’t mind following the somewhat predictable ups and downs of their relationship, which involve as many banter-filled flirtations as threatening rivals and misunderstandings. The will-they-or-won’t-they-fall-in-love factor is high, as she shrugs off her moment with a star and as his movie work takes him to far-off lands with attractive costars. Also, Tom’s agent — played with fantastic venality by Minnie Driver — pushes him into more high-profile affairs and away from carbohydrates.
I hadn’t heard of Matafeo, a comedian from New Zealand, before “Starstruck,” but I am an instant fan. She avoids a lot of the pitfalls that ensnare rom-com women, with her formidable presence and her outgoing humor, which is her lifesaving device. Tom is an actor, but Patel makes him into a gentle introvert and observer; Matafeo’s Jessie is an extrovert who’s bursting with one-liners and eccentricities (albeit with a well-protected but clear vulnerability underneath). The two actors work beautifully together; he marvels at her self-awareness and she pushes him to be more so himself. She’s cynical, but not terminally so.
At the end, I was sad, not because of any kind of plot twist, but because I’d enjoyed Matafeo so much and was ready for more of the show. Then I learned some good news. The show, from the BBC and HBO Max, has already been renewed for a second season.