I Hate Suzie: Billie Piper lets rip as a phone-hacked actor

There’s a lot to love in this drama about a celebrity whose messy life is further upended by scandal, but brace yourselves for some song-and-dance numbers

Two things happen in episode one of I Hate Suzie (Thursday, 9pm, Sky Atlantic) that will shape how you feel about the show overall and, I think, actually quite neatly divide humanity in general: Billie Piper has diarrhoea, and then, later on, sings. What are you? A diarrhoea person? Or a singing person? No one, I think, is both.

First the diarrhoea, I suppose: Billie Piper, or rather Suzie, has it, in a panic, in the middle of a highly stressful photoshoot. The sort-of premise of I Hate Suzie is: a celebrity famous for a singing career in her teens and a sci-fi acting career in her 20s – you can’t see it but I’m looking to camera incredibly knowingly right now, in a way I would even go so far as to describe as “annoying” – has her nudes leaked in a tabloid scandal.

This is the grenade that’s set off in Billie’s – sorry, Suzie’s – life, and the one that every ensuing incident (each is set round a particular stage of grief: we open with Shock, we move into Denial, etc) is about, but it quite rapidly stops being the focal point. Anyway, episode one is a very claustrophobic set-piece in the country house Billie Piper (I mean Suzie Pickles!) owns with her husband, Cob, as a photoshoot goes on around her, and, at one point – dressed in a fur coat and full glam – she has to get everyone out of the room and have some emotionally charged diarrhoea. This all feels: human. The singing, less so: that same episode zigs into a fantasy sequence, where Piper taps down the road singing aloud to the unaffected passersby that see her.

There’s much to like about I Hate Suzie, which could have so easily leaned into a chiding lecture about privacy and sexual autonomy and the right to suck off whoever the hell you suck off and take photos of that sucking off and not have those photos stolen by hackers. But what the show does is so much better: it makes Suzie a mess, who calamity sticks to like a scent. She makes bad decisions at the wrong time and is self-pitying and thoughtless. She wears a thin veneer of fame until she doesn’t, and then you see what’s underneath is quite guilty and squalid and broken.

And there’s a lot of pedigree to back all this up. The show is co-created by Lucy Prebble – who wrote Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and more recently on Succession – and the cast, including Daniel Ings from The Crown and Dexter Fletcher, are great. Then there’s Piper, the co-creator, who’s acting her socks off: there’s this great camera effect they keep deploying where the lens gets right in Piper’s face as chaos unfurls around her, and you just see it all – shock, guilt, shame, stress – play out in real time across it.

Still, the results are a bit mixed. Episode two features a sci-fi convention sequence that relies far too heavily on making the viewer cringe, but then follows it up with one of the most accurate three-people-in-a-hotel-room-doing-coke scenes ever committed to film. There’s a lot to really like, here, and then something happens – a song-and-dance number, a CGI section involving a coral reef made of dicks, Yet Another TV Cold Open Set In A Therapist’s Office – that pushes you away. Are you going to love it? I don’t know. Here’s one way to find out: what are your thoughts on diarrhoea?

Contributor

Joel Golby

The GuardianTramp

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