I Hate Suzie, first-look review: a sharp, ruthlessly accurate comedy drama about the dark side of fame
In I Hate Suzie, Billie Piper plays a former teen pop star who became an actress in a popular sci-fi series before motherhood and marriage to a self-centred man baby. That’s Billie Piper, the former teen pop star who became an actress in Doctor Who before motherhood and marriage to Chris Evans and Laurence Fox. Any similarity to actual persons living or dead is, well, that’s for her to know.
This drama arrives full of promise because it is written by Lucy Prebble, the playwright behind the acclaimed Enron, and because it features a star who is always interesting. Piper is a gifted actress – her performance in the 2017 play Yerma won every award going including an Olivier – and someone who has been a tabloid fixture for more than 20 years. The two women worked together on The Secret Diary of a Call Girl a decade-and-a-half ago, have been friends ever since, and drew on Piper’s experiences of fame to co-create I Hate Suzie.
The title character has just landed her dream role as a Disney princess when we first meet her. She has an idyllic cottage in the countryside with her husband, Cob (Daniel Ings) and their young son. Then disaster strikes: Suzie is among a group of female celebrities whose phones have been hacked, and compromising pictures circulated on the internet. This is based on a real event, though Piper was not involved: in 2014, Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay were among the victims.
The tone, at least in the first episode, is black comedy. Suzie learns of this potentially career-ending leak moments before a magazine team turns up for a photoshoot, complete with fake blood and two wolfhounds. As they swarm all over the house, Suzie frantically tries to keep the pictures from Cob. The reason for this soon becomes apparent, as the man pictured in flagrante delicto with Suzie is not her husband.
Sky has described the series as “bold” and “bracing”, which is a way of saying it’s full of sexual references, drug use and toilet humour. Like the BBC’s recent I May Destroy You, it aims to depict women with absolute honesty.
The opening episode is a corker, brimming with ideas: at one point Piper walks through her local village and makes a speech that sounds like an incantation – “I hate the dark, I hate the stars, you shouldn’t be able to see so many stars, I hate the way people leave their doors unlocked, it’s not normal, lock your houses, lock your houses, these people aren’t nice they’re just already rich…” – before breaking into song. But as the series goes on, this vividness and energy gives way to something bleaker and more introspective. That’s deliberate, because we are meant to follow Suzie through the various stages of grief as her world collapses (the episodes are labelled Shock, Denial, Fear, etc) but the decrease in pressure makes the viewing experience go a little flat.
Nevertheless, I Hate Suzie is uniformly well-acted, sharply written and, above all, is ruthlessly accurate about fame in all its anxiety, mundanity and insincerity. It’s not A-list Hollywood fame, but the kind that Piper enjoys. Or, on this evidence, that she really doesn’t.
I Hate Suzie begins on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Thursday 27 August