The ingenious product of a partnership between Billie Piper, treasured by many for her role as Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler, and Lucy Prebble, writer on HBO’s Succession, I Hate Suzie showcases the success that can come from female collaboration. Friends since they worked together on the ITV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl in 2007, Prebble and Piper reunite in this intensely candid and raw Sky Atlantic series that charts the repercussions of an actress’s phone hacking with searing directness. Piper’s captivating performance suggests the ease with which she was able to flourish under Prebble’s writing and production, her expressive face being as the perfect canvas to display Suzie Pickles’ erratic changes in emotion.
In the fiercely close friendship between Suzie and her manager Naomi, we see the importance of female friendship played out on screen. But Prebble is quick to note that this is not all that I Hate Suzie is about. At the Edinburgh TV Festival, she encouraged broadcasters to be more open-minded when approaching new shows, stating that for producers and writers there is often “pressure to only talk about the subject matter from a racial perspective, or, if you’re a woman, from a woman’s perspective” but neither is the “entirety of anyone’s existence”. I Hate Suzie spotlights the female experience, but does not isolate it as the sole reason for a woman’s worthiness in a main role.
On the brink of a third opportunity for fame, Suzie’s life unravels when nude photographs on her phone are leaked to the press. As chaos descends, the series delves into Suzie’s different identities as a mother, a wife, a friend, a phone-user and a flawed human being. Important meditations are provoked by the colourful and often uncomfortable choices that Suzie makes – what is the cost of fame? Does the danger of phones outweigh their utility? Does society respond to female adultery in a different way to male?
The labelling of each of the eight episodes with an emotion – from ‘shock’ to ‘acceptance’ –offers the viewer an emotional arc with which to navigate Suzie’s self-destructive behaviour, as each episode veers off in surprising directions – the first ending in a burst of musicality. There is no clear genre with which to categorise I Hate Suzie, because real life is not a genre. As viewers we know that our life is sometimes a comedy, sometimes a drama, and sometimes a full-blown musical when we belt out tunes in the car. Just like Suzie, our relationships flail and falter, our emotional states peak and dip, and, as we see in Suzie’s shocking decision-making, the tendency to make terrible mistakes is a trait that all humans share.
“I Hate Suzie is not relaxing, but it is something more important – a unique and gripping series that taps into the very real, very messy aspects of life.”
The realism of I Hate Suzie also lies in the way that the series keeps the audience’s attitudes towards characters in constant flux. One moment you are horrified by Suzie’s cruel scolding of her son, and the next you pity her immensely, as she endures a belittling tirade from her husband Cob. One moment you despise Cob for this, and the next you consider the justification for his anger.
This experience of constantly shifting sympathies, and often feeling unsettled, reminded me of another series – Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. In a similar vein to this BBC drama, I Hate Suzie faces head-on the uncomfortable realities of life. I May Destroy You unashamedly shows bloody tampons and full scenes of gay sex, while I Hate Suzie depicts stress-induced diarrhoea and the covert deleting of messages sent on a partner’s phone. In keeping with this pointed directness, the ending of I Hate Suzie does not allow for an unrealistic fairy-tale conclusion – there remains a grounded balance. We are not appeased by a gushing rom-com ending, but neither are we angered by a torturous cliff-hanger.
Often when we watch television we seek out programmes that will help us to switch off. I Hate Suzie is not relaxing, but it is something more important – a unique and gripping series that taps into the very real, very messy aspects of life. Female friendship is both on and off-screen in I Hate Suzie, but it is not presented as perfect or placed on a pedestal. The realism of the shifts in Suzie and Leila’s friendship gets to the core of what this show dazzlingly depicts; life and friendship are unsteady.
At the Edinburgh TV Festival, Prebble revealed how many broadcasters turned down the series with the claim that they already had their ‘woman-having-a-breakdown show.’ They’ve been proved wrong; I Hate Suzie is not just about a woman’s breakdown. The powerhouse of the Piper-Prebble partnership has produced a brilliant programme that delves into important issues of the modern day – relationships, fame, technology – and revels in the human fallibility that governs us all.
I Hate Suzie is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.
Words by Imogen Higgins