Sometimes it’s just really nice to watch a TV show where the actors are having fun – and in her new Sky comedy drama I Hate Suzie, Billie Piper is clearly having so much fun (even if her character, Suzie Pickles, really isn’t having fun at all).
Suzie Pickles is not having fun because intimate photos of her in a ‘compromising position’ have been hacked from her phone and leaked on the internet. The penis involved, as her best friend and manager Naomi (Leila Farzad) points out, does not belong to her husband Cob (Daniel Ings). Cob is quite upset about this. Also, the media is very interested in this.
Piper co-created the show in a reunion with Secret Diary of a Call Girl writer Lucy Prebble, and the character they have built allows Piper to really let loose. Suzie Pickles is self-pitying, self-sabotaging, sometimes grotesque, and frequently unlikeable; she is also very funny, weirdly relatable, and desperately keen to please.
Twenty years ago, a teenage Suzie Pickles shot to fame after singing in a TV talent contest. Then, 12 years ago, she starred as Captain Brea in popular sci-fi series Quo Vardis (said like “Tardis”).
And while Piper has insisted that the show isn’t based on her own life, and while Piper is (presumably) nothing like Suzie Pickles (seriously, I hear she’s much much nicer), I Hate Suzie does seem like it’s riffing off Piper’s stint as companion Rose Tyler in Doctor Who just a little bit, with some knowing nods. Like when a man in the Comic Con audience stands up to ask a torturously-long question about the inconsistencies of time travel…
Since her Captain Brea days, Suzie has been in “some more recent things” including soaps (“we don’t talk about that”) and a show called After Death (“who doesn’t love Nazi zombies?” she quips). But, frankly, her star has been on the wane since her Quo Vardis days – which is why she’s outrageously delighted when her agent rings (pre-photo hack) to tell her that she’s been cast as a Disney Princess. The fact that she’s in her mid-30s is, apparently, part of the concept. Mummy’s going to be a Disney Princess, she tells her deaf son Frank (Matthew Jordan-Caws) in sign language, and he is delighted.
At the beginning of the drama, Suzie Pickles lives in a large low-ceilinged cottage in a village she hates, with a son she loves, several chickens, and a husband who seems like a profound mismatch. He won’t even let her have champagne for breakfast to toast the Disney Princess news, and he gets all passive-aggressive about it.
But her life is about to be blown apart by the scandal of the intimate images, because after the first episode (titled ‘Shock’), Suzie cycles through a new emotion (or Stage of Grief) in each 30-minute episode: denial, fear, shame, bargaining, guilt, anger, and finally acceptance. And by the way, 30 minutes is the perfect episode length for each chapter of Suzie’s journey.
There are a few things that frustrate me about the way events play out in the first couple of episodes, however. Number one: the show acknowledges that information travels quickly, while inexplicably also ignoring that very fact.
So, on the morning when the hackers announce they’re going to release a bunch of celebrity images and Suzie’s phone blows up with calls and miscalls, Suzie also happens to have a magazine photoshoot scheduled in. The crew turns up at her door with fur coats and make-up and furniture and a photographer and an editor, and all these people remain blithely oblivious for an absurdly long time. Finally, one of them sees the news on their phone and the word begins to spread within the team.
Now, I know it’s annoying when journalists complain about inaccurate on-screen depictions of journalists, but come on! My editor would have seen the news and called me immediately! Suzie’s and Cob’s and Naomi’s phones work perfectly fine, so it’s not like they’re in a signal blackspot! At least the rest of their visit seems painfully accurate, with the magazine writer gabbling on the way out the door about her side gig hosting a podcast about sexual consent and how she’d never forgive herself if she didn’t seize the opportunity to ask Suzie to be a guest on her show. I winced. In a good way.
Quibble number two: the ‘big reveal’ about the dick in the pic – the fact that it does not belong to Cob – is kept back until the end of episode one, even though we already know the truth… because it’s in the trailer! And even if you hadn’t watched the trailer, you’d probably guess the truth anyway by Cob’s furious reaction and Suzie’s look of terror! By the time the truth is voiced, and by the time we get to the end of the “denial” episode, I wanted to shake everyone involved. Which is possibly the point, I’ll admit, but still – frustrating.
Despite all that, this show is a delight. Even the frustration is delightfully frustrating. It’s tightly-written, funny, and brilliantly well-acted. Leila Farzad does a great turn as manager/friend Naomi (a complex dual role), and Daniel Ings is (at least from the first two episodes) entirely annoying as Cob. You realise so much about him just from a few simple moments – like when he watches his manic wife try to make tea for an entire film crew and doesn’t lift a finger to help, only interjecting to point out that it’s a bad idea to pour boiling water into a glass when she runs out of clean mugs. (It is a bad idea, but that’s not the point.)
And, obviously, Piper is spectacular in this. She and Lucy Prebble should collaborate more often; it seems to bring about great things.
All episodes of I Hate Suzie will arrive on Sky and NOW TV on 27th August 2020. While you’re waiting visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.