I Hate Suzie is authentic, messy and has a filthy sense of humour

Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper's dark comedy is absolutely bulging with people who, though basically decent and likeable, are also behaving very stupidly and, sometimes, incredibly badly. 

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A less good writer than Lucy Prebble, who is a very good writer indeed, would have weighted I Hate Suzie (27 August, 9pm), a new drama starring Billie Piper as an ­actor whose phone has been hacked, far too ­heavily in favour of its heroine. She would have been (vastly) more sinned against than sinning, perhaps even a little saintly.  Prebble, though, isn’t having any of this. If it’s hateful that someone has plastered ­pictures of Suzie Pickles (Piper) performing a “sex act” all over the internet, well, she’s not the only victim here. The ­images in question do not, unfortunately, date  from many years ago, before she was ­married and a mother. They’re three months old. Even more unfortunately, as her ­manager Naomi (Leila Farzad) smoothly notes, she looks “really happy” in them to boot.

Who’s the guy in the picture? (Or, as her husband, Cob, puts it rather more plainly: “Whose c*** is it?”) The whole thing brings to mind the infamous photograph from the Sixties of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, in which Her Grace, resplendent in pearls, could be seen fellating a headless man (this became national news when the Duke ­deployed the picture in their divorce case); like the Duchess, Suzie is keeping ­schtum for now. But this isn’t to suggest that  she’s feeling entirely calm and collected about things. The first episode of I Hate ­Suzie – each one is only half an hour long – was the most frantically hectic thing I’ve seen in ages: think Alan Ayckbourn-meets-Heat magazine.

One minute, Suzie was celebrating the news she’d landed a part as a princess in a Disney movie, the next she was staring, following only the very briefest of Google searches, at the sort of headlines that could (and did, in her case) give a girl a bad dose of diarrhoea. By the time Cob (Daniel Ings) had caught up with events – which was only about five minutes later, news travelling fast even in the countryside, where the couple live in an idyllic cottage with their adorable little son and some chickens – a team from Esquire magazine had arrived. They planned to shoot Suzie, plus two Irish wolfhounds, “at home”. For extra edginess, her fur coat would be splattered with red paint.

“If you, too, suffer with anxiety, shame, compulsive lying, but like a laugh, please tune in,” invited Billie Piper, the ­series’ co-creator, recently. (Piper, of course, knows quite a lot both about celebrity and perhaps some of these other things, by now; like Suzie, also a former child star, she was famous at 15). I won’t tell you how many ticks I can put against this statement, but I will say that I do like this series a lot. I like its mess, and its filthy sense of humour (boy, it’s rude); I like the fact that it feels authentic even when it’s at its most manic (coke scenes, as I’ve written before, usually bore me, but episode two features a really rather enjoyable one, co-starring Dexter Fletcher as a lightly frayed sort of  actor called Ben Detroit). Above all, I like  the fact that it’s absolutely bulging with people who, though basically decent and likeable, are also behaving very stupidly and, sometimes, incredibly badly. Kids, I promise you, this is what adult human ­beings are like.

Like Prebble’s play Enron, the action veers off, at moments, into slightly surreal song and dance routines. Like her Murdoch- inspired show Succession, it has an eye – almost admiring – for ruthlessness, and all the ways in which people try to disguise it. And like all of her work that I’ve seen, it’s incredibly knowing. “It’s not me,” announces Suzie of the scandalous pictures at a convention for fans of a Noughties sci-fi show she was once in. “I wish I was that thin.” They are, she tells her ­adoring audience, fake news. And then: “It’s very Black Mirror.” Right now, I’ve only one complaint, which is that for an actor, ­Suzie is awfully bad at hiding her feelings. Still, I can’t wait to see the rest. The first ­episode was called “shock”, and the second ­“denial”. After this, she will, apparently, cycle through all the other stages of grief.  “Guilt”, I sense, is going to be great, and “anger” even better.

I Hate Suzie
Sky Atlantic 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 28 August 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Covid

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