I Hate Suzie, the brilliantly prickly new comedy-drama series starring Billie Piper, isn’t something you’ll watch with one eye on your phone. Written by award-winning playwright and Succession producer Lucy Prebble, who co-created the show with Piper, it’s a bold, bracing and often painful tale of emotional disintegration. In episode one, Piper’s anti-heroine Suzie Pickles – a former child star whose acting career is about to be boosted by a Disney role she thought she was too old for – gets lobbed one hell of a bombshell. Her phone’s been hacked and intimate photos of her performing a sex act are all over the Internet. Worse still: the man she’s pictured with isn’t her husband.
Even the smoothest celebrity operator would struggle to respond calmly and quickly to this humiliating situation, but Suzie Pickles definitely isn’t smooth. Played majestically by Piper, who doesn’t shy away from an extreme close-up that lets her show every iota of Suzie’s snowballing anxiety, she’s a selfish, impulsive and exasperating woman who presumably stopped acquiring self-awareness when she became famous. “She’s a nightmare,” says Prebble bluntly. “We really weren’t interested in making her ‘likeable’ in inverted commas, or even particularly relatable, because that’s something that’s been pushed down our throats when creating characters for a long time, especially when it comes to women.”
Instead, Prebble says that she and Piper wanted to challenge us with a lead character who is “embarrassingly honest in her cowardice and her selfishness”. Suzie Pickles is compelling because it’s clear from episode one, in which she implodes at a stressful home photo shoot as she processes the news that she’s been hacked, that Prebble and Piper aren’t going to give her any cheesy redeeming qualities. “We’re sort of experimenting in this show, I guess, with showing you someone who genuinely is a mess – not somebody who seems like a mess, but underneath it all she’s a go-getter,” Prebble says. “And I hope that’s quite refreshing, as well as funny and moving, because it genuinely avoids any kind of bullshit [character] ‘type’ that we normally see on screen.”
Suzie’s husband Cob (Lovesick‘s Daniel Ings), with whom she’s raising a young son who’s deaf (Matthew Jordan-Caws), is ostensibly the ‘wronged man’ of the piece, but don’t expect to feel sorry for him once the story progresses. “I was really drawn to playing a character who has one sort of public face and another very different private face,” says Ings, who describes Suzie and Cob’s relationship as “toxic” and marred by “huge problems for a long time”. “He’s a very domineering character,” Ings adds, explaining that Cob and Suzie “fall into the trap of her being passive, almost playing the child in a way, and him assuming the adult role in the relationship”. It’s an unhealthy balance of power which Ings hints won’t last through the series. “Suzie’s sort of unpredictabilities lead her to discover what’s going on in the relationship and he starts to lose some of the emotional control over her,” he says.
Suzie’s other defining personal relationship is her friendship with Naomi (Leila Farzad), her bestie-turned-professional fixer, who seems much more put together but isn’t immune to making terrible decisions of her own. In episode two, we see Naomi sleeping with a creepy middle-aged actor whom Suzie bonds with at a comic book convention – she used to star in a sci-fi show, surely a nod to Piper’s own Doctor Who stint – after the three of them snort coke in a hotel room. “I think Naomi loves Suzie but doesn’t always like her, which is obviously a pretty tricky situation,” Farzad says. “For a time, their relationship was very close and almost sibling-like, but then Suzie became famous and won all these accolades and Naomi’s been in the background the whole time picking up her mess.” With a public scandal hanging over her head, Suzie needs Naomi more than ever, but she might not receive the rock-solid support she’s become accustomed to. “I think the relationship has started to fray and Naomi is wondering if she’s happy,” Farzad says. “She’s wondering if she’s actually looked after in this relationship because she’s always putting Suzie first.”
I Hate Suzie isn’t quite like any other show in recent memory: it’s spiky, uncomfortable and makes creative choices that even viewers who end up becoming fans might find difficult: episode one ends with a completely unexpected song and dance number that’s almost like something from a twisted Hollywood musical: Suzie sings “fuck this life” while prancing through a drizzly country village. But this no-holds-barred unpredictability is a key part of its appeal: like its central character, I Hate Suzie is a riveting reminder that to fuck up is human – and to keep on fucking up is more human still.
‘I Hate Suzie’ premieres on Sky Atlantic this Thursday August 27 at 9pm – all episodes will arrive on Sky and NOW TV on the same day