Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble prove themselves to be a dream team as the co-creators (Piper stars and Prebble writes) of Sky Atlantic comedy-drama I Hate Suzie. The pair previously worked together on Secret Diary of a Call Girl and 2012 play The Effect, and Prebble has most recently written for Succession.
Piper is the titular Suzie, a former teen pop star turned actress who’s most known for her role in a sci-fi show. Sound familiar? Suzie is currently starring in a streaming show about Nazi zombies that nobody seems to be watching – there’s a running joke of people casually telling Suzie they don’t bother with TV these days because there’s just too much of it – and she lives in a charming country house with her academic husband Cob (Daniel Ings, full of simmering resentment) and their son.
The series opens with Suzie finding out she has been cast as a Disney princess (“I thought that you were too old?” her husband asks, “Apparently that’s the joke” she replies) but this moment of happiness is short-lived.
As a swarm of people enter her home to conduct a photo shoot, Suzie learns that she has been the victim of a hack and that ‘intimate photos’ of her are soon going to be made public. Thus the opening episode follows Suzie’s efforts to grit her teeth and get through the shoot while trying to prevent her husband and son from going online and discovering what has happened. And as if the situation wasn’t already horrid enough, it’s made even worse by the fact that the photos in question turn out to be relatively recent and show her with a man who, although unidentifiable, is clearly not her husband. We then follow Suzie as she deals with the fallout of the hack and see the impact it has on her marriage, her career and her mental health, with episode titles reflecting stages of her reaction such as Denial, Guilt and Anger.
Hacking celebrities’ phones to steal personal photos is a very modern crime and one that people, including the victims themselves, rarely know how to respond to. Against all advice, Suzie initially goes down the route of publicly denying the photos are real, before having to backpedal and give statements that are also lies but more believable ones. “Be honest about how you would feel if everything we were saying was true” she is unhelpfully advised by long-term friend and manager Naomi (Leila Farzad in a standout supporting role) before a messy telephone interview.
Crucially – as was also the case in Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, another recent series that dealt with themes of consent, social media and modern relationships – Suzie is not some sort of angelic figure, and she shouldn’t have to be in order to earn our sympathy. She’s constantly fighting a losing battle of trying to meet so many different people’s expectations of her, whether it’s at home where Cob is dismissive of her career and critical of her as a mother, or in public where she worries that fans will start looking at her in a sexual way because of the photos, to which Naomi bluntly responds “They always are, babe.”
In amongst the moments of raw emotion, the show also takes some unexpectedly fantastical detours that give us further insight into people’s psyches. Towards the end of episode 1, after her husband has locked her out of the house, Suzie breaks into song to express her distaste for the village where they live and dances her way down the street in search of someone with a phone charger. The opening of another episode features Cob taking a deeper look at the photos, and this involves him literally walking around ‘the scene of the crime’ detective-like, while internet trolls tell him where to look for clues. Episode 4, which viewers will likely be talking about for years to come, revolves entirely around Suzie trying to masturbate but struggling to decide what she should think about, while Naomi invades her fantasies to bluntly question what she finds desirable and why.
Layered, intelligent and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, I Hate Suzie is a truly one-of-a-kind series. Thanks to Piper’s performance and Prebble’s writing, it provides a memorably visceral portrait of a woman pushed to the edge, as well as a nuanced exploration of what it means to be both female and famous in the modern age.
Contributed by Sophie Davies.
I Hate Suzie is now available on Sky Boxsets or Now TV.