Witty, cutting, fiercely intelligent, and brilliantly bold, I Hate Suzie is one of the best shows of the year.
The fact that Lucy Prebble’s I Hate Suzie had difficulty being picked up by broadcasters says a lot of uncomfortable things about our entertainment culture. One has to hope that viewers don’t similarly dismiss the show, a comedy-drama about a former child star whose career in her thirties is derailed by her phone being hacked and nude photos of her being leaked online, as some kind of clichéd and rote attempt at filling the perceived “stories about women, by women” quota. It’s so much more than that – on the contrary, it’s one of the very best shows of the year.
Between this and the inferior Little Birds, Sky Atlantic, where I Hate Suzie ended up, is becoming something of a coveted space for female-led stories. And why not? This one is excellently funny, but also sharply incisive (it comes from the writer of HBO’s Succession, after all), taking perfect aim at celebrity culture and the media establishment, and featuring a performance from Billie Piper as the titular Suzie Pickles that dances along a fine line between boundlessly charismatic and devastatingly self-indulgent. Even that, though, is a cutting critique of how fame stoops those forced to shoulder its upsides – especially as children.
A case of arrested development and poor impulse control, then, is only to be expected from Suzie, who is finally looking at a career resurgence two decades after her childhood success but is confronted with the nude leak only moments after being cast as a Disney princess. The first episode is a maelstrom of escalating paranoia and despair that rests halfway between an outright comedy – including explosive diarrhea – and a surrealist horror, before building to a striking musical soliloquy, proving that I Hate Suzie has little interest in convention. Suzie’s manager and bestie Naomi (Leila Farzad) has some real zingers, especially those aimed in the direction of Suzie’s husband, Cob (Daniel Ings), whose increasing understanding of what’s happening parallels Suzie’s determined – and ultimately fruitless – attempts at keeping it under wraps; for reasons that extend beyond just a violation of her personal privacy.
To some extent, Billie Piper is playing herself here, though admittedly in a stylized and played-up popular culture that makes a mockery of the idea of celebrity but hones right in on its consequences, especially how they manifest for women. That claustrophobic opener and the many times it focuses on Suzie in close-up as she frantically watches the eyes of her guests dart from their phones to her and back again is a masterful summarization of how quickly and completely the internet and a 24-hour news cycle can disseminate a person’s private life – and how readily the general public will judge them for daring to have parts of their life that aren’t for public consumption.
By violating the conventions of genre and constantly hurtling off in new, unexpected directions, I Hate Suzie is making its story of violated consent an exercise in a different kind of trust; are we, as an audience, willing to let Prebble and Piper take us somewhere challenging and creative? We should be, and I hope enough of us are that whatever Prebble does next has no problems finding a home.