I Hate Suzie review – Billie Piper is nude, lewd and joyously off the rails

Chaos reigns as Suzie Pickles’ life and acting career are turned upside down by a compromising phone hack, in this scabrously funny drama penned by Piper and Lucy Prebble

At this year’s virtual Edinburgh TV festival, Lucy Prebble, the writer of award-winning plays and most recently the critically lauded TV series Succession, revealed how many broadcasters had turned down her new creation, I Hate Suzie. Starring Billie Piper (with whom Prebble first collaborated on Secret Diary of a Call Girl and who was Olivier-nominated for her performance in Prebble’s 2012 play The Effect), it tells the story of a a thirtysomething former child star who became a fan favourite after a role in a cult sci-fi series. As she teeters on the brink of the third act of her career, her phone is hacked and nude photographs of her are leaked online.

Prebble revealed that broadcasters had declined the series on the grounds that “we already have our woman-having-a-breakdown show”. As she went on to say, it’s an attitude that speaks volumes, and none of it good, about how not just female stories but how anything other than white, middle-class, male viewpoints are seen. It’s a systemic problem resulting in systemic inequities that will take a long time to address and uproot altogether.

Let us for the moment, then, revel in the small but potent and gloriously immediate satisfaction of knowing that every one of them will be kicking themselves for their dreary, cowardly decision. Prebble took her project to Sky Atlantic and the result is a truly astonishing performance from Piper embedded in six of the most exhilarating, scabrously funny (“These people aren’t nice! They’re just already rich”) half-hours of comedy drama the channel has yet produced.

In the opening episodes, chaos reigns as Suzie Pickles (Piper) moves from the highs of being offered a major role by Disney to the deepening lows of a media and marital storm created by the leak. The first half-hour is almost unbearably claustrophobic as a shocked Suzie tears round the house trying to disconnect everything and everyone in her family from the internet as the place fills with awful knowledge and the almost equally awful people who have come to do a scheduled photoshoot with her. The stress induces a bout of diarrhoea that is about the only moment of stillness we get before everything starts up again, and worse. Even Suzie’s fearsome manager and best friend, Naomi (Leila Farzad), can only do so much. “Look,” she says, trying to calm Suzie’s husband, Cob. “I’m sorry the world’s seen your dick, but also – fuck off, slightly.” This is before anyone but Suzie has realised that the penis being – uh – Pickled in the pictures does not, in fact, belong to Cob, gorgeously played as a man of furious sanity by Daniel Ings.

Beneath it all, Prebble holds the reins firmly in her fist and Piper keeps us – just, just – on the side of an endlessly charismatic but volatile, self-indulgent character. I Hate Suzie nails the arrested development and consequent issues – poor impulse control, irresponsibility and generally exhausting high-maintenance-ness – of a celebrity upon whom fame was visited so early.

Of course it’s riffing on Piper’s own career. At 15 she became the youngest artist ever to debut at No 1 in the singles chart, was then a tabloid staple via her early marriage to Chris Evans and later a Doctor Who favourite as the ninth timelord’s companion Rose Tyler, and is now a well-established “proper” actor. Prebble makes use of our knowledge of where she sits in the cultural firmament. But beyond that it’s a wider meditation on, and investigation into, what we require from our – female, especially – celebrities and, more widely still, how we treat anybody – women, especially – who step out of the places we have marked for them and our growing unwillingness to accept any form of sprawl or mess in our individual, or collective, cultural lives.

So I Hate Suzie moves, with unashamed brio, through genres and in unexpected directions. The first episode ends, for example, with a musical soliloquy – Suzie singing and dancing through her despair in the street, alongside unseeing passersby, before returning home to face the music in a less literal sense. As well as wit by the bucketload and a searching intelligence informing the whole, the series has the thrilling confidence of a collaboration between people who trust each other implicitly and, secure in that knowledge, have been able to give the best of themselves to us. It’s a wild ride that feels like an absolute gift. I’m glad someone managed to squeeze just one more woman thing into their busy, busy schedule.

• This article was amended on 12 October 2020 because Billie Piper was 15 when she released her first single, not 16 as an earlier version said.

Contributor

Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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