I Hate Suzie stars Billie Piper as a thirtysomething former child star who later becomes a fan-favourite after appearing in a successful cult TV series. Created by Piper and close friend Lucy Prebble (a successful playwright who also worked on HBO’s Succession), the show takes the idea of a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown and pushes it even further.
In the opening episode, Suzie Pickles (Billie Piper), high from being offered a major Disney role, is villainised after sexually explicit images of her are leaked onto the internet. The nudity isn’t the major issue to Suzie, it’s more how the pictures show her with a man who clearly isn’t her husband.
Suzie’s been living in the English countryside with her patronising university lecturer husband (Lovesick’s Daniel Ings) and young deaf son (Mathew Jordan-Caws), employed on a cheap sci-fi show about Nazi zombies, run by a creepy director who sees Suzie as nothing more than a commodity. She’s out of the cultural conversation, but hopes this new Disney gig will bring her back into the public eye. The nude image leak certainly makes her more relevant than she’s been in years, just not in the way she hoped.
Helping Suzie navigate this new world of social media trolling, stalkers, and front-page titillation, is her manager and childhood friend Naomi (Leila Farzad). She’s doing her best with damage control, but Suzie appears to be doing everything she can to make the situation even worse. Naomi has her own problems too, with the show shining a light on more than just celebrity woes, as she faces men masturbating on public transport, modern dating, and motherhood. She’s struggling to handle the baggage of her own youth alongside the current whirlwind that is her client and best-friend, keeping the series grounded and relatable whenever the main story gets outlandish.
I Hate Suzie is separated into eight episodes, each named after a stage of trauma. The narrative’s structured as if Suzie’s n mourning, with titles like “Shock”, “Denial”, “Bargaining”, “Anger”, etc. The drama could easily focus on the pain of public humiliation, and the shame of being seen in a sexual position by strangers, but the writing instead prioritises the internal aftermath of such an event on people’s lives. It affects Suzie’s marriage, her relationship with her family, and her career, but it more importantly forces Suzie to deal with the fact fame and fortune hasn’t made her happy.
The way this show’s been shot is visually interesting, too. Each instalment has its own identity, often clashing with each other, much like our protagonist. “Shock” is filled with intimate close-ups, enhanced by Piper’s expressive features; “Denial” deals with nightmarish visions and drug binges in low lit hotel rooms; “Fear” plays like a horror movie with jump-scares and a string-heavy score; “Shame” explores sexual fantasies seeping into reality; and “Bargaining” uses questionably bad sci-fi shows to mirror Suzie’s internal anguish and contains one of the best uses of a Kate Bush song in years.
Written by Prebble and directed by newcomer Georgi Banks-Davies and Anthony Neilson, I Hate Suzie is a thematically rich series without feeling constrained by the title. Although the visuals and tones change, the messages never do. To some, this constant shift in tone and visuals may be jarring because it often feels like four shows rolled into one, but the visuals aren’t switched around for the sake of making a statement, they adapt to Suzie’s perspectives and changing emotional state.
I Hate Suzie does lack subtlety at times, or the nuance of I May Destroy You or Fleabag. Realism often gets thrown out the window, allowing the show to dip in and out of genres and styles. Much like those aforementioned shows, the female lead sits uncomfortably between dislikable and relatable. She’s the worst of all of us. Prebble and Piper understand the nuances of being a woman, especially a famous one, who are often separated into being a virtuous princess or a despicable villain by the media.
Of course, Piper and Prebble know how quickly audiences will link Suzie directly to the actress playing her. Suzie became a child star after appearing on a reality show, while Piper became the youngest artist to ever debut at No.1 in the UK single chart at the age of 15. She later became a tabloid staple through her marriage to British radio DJ Chris Evans, before gaining respect and global recognition for her role as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who.
Piper just about keeps us on the side of her charismatic yet self-indulgent character here. The series doesn’t make you feel bad for her success, money, and fame… but it does nail the lack of responsibility and arrested development that comes with being handed stardom at such an impressionable young age. Prebble and Piper, through Suzie Pickles, explore the concept of celebrity and how the media use it as an excuse to mistreat women.
Those around Suzie, especially her agent Naomi, haven’t been given the same quality of writing, unfortunately. More could have been done with Suzie’s husband and their dynamic of university professor and celebrity. There’s a wealth of untapped potential in her family; a lower-class and proudly trashy clan who are delighted to be making money from Suzie’s frequent misfortunes.
Billie Piper’s performance is certainly award-worthy. She play Suzie as a string of contradictions; always panicking yet weird cold, repressed but loud, ashamed of her behaviour yet defiant in the face of her tormentors.
It’s not just Piper’s performance that holds this show together. The score is impactful, switching to match the themes of each episode; the costuming is an evocative play on modern celebrity; the depiction of the disabled is refreshingly down to earth (the DVD also includes special Hard of Hearing subtitles) and avoids sentimentality. The reunion of Piper and Prebble (who previously worked together on The Secret Diary of a Call Girl) is a perfect marriage of creative minds and talent.
I Hate Suzie throws all preconceptions of genre, narrative and writing out the window. It’s messy and ambitious but understands the baggage a woman has to carry around in the 21st-century, with a target often painted on their back as they do so.
UK | 2020 | 280 MINUTES • 7 EPISODES | 16:9 HD | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
writer: Lucy Prebble.
director: Georgi Banks-Davies & Anthony Neilson.
starring: Billie Piper, Leila Farzad, Daniel Ings, Nathaniel Martello-White & Matthew Jordan-Caws.