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Review: I HATE SUZIE, Sky Atlantic

Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper reunite for this new drama

4 STARSReview: I HATE SUZIE, Sky Atlantic I Hate Suzie is a new eight-part series reuniting playwright Lucy Prebble (Enron, The Effect) with Billie Piper, following their previous collaboration on Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

It's the story of 36-year-old Suzie Pickles (Piper), an actress whose world is sent into free fall when hacked photos of her are leaked. The photos show her in a compromising position with a man who is not her husband Cob (Daniel Ings), and we see the impact the leak has on her career and relationships - especially her relationship with herself.

The 'celebrity in free fall' narrative is not particularly new, but the novelty here is seeing it happen when said celebrity is a mother in her mid-thirties. Piper is on great form, playing a character who has had a similar trajectory to her own (a teenage singing career, a stint in sci-fi etc.) while being noticeably different in other ways (not least that Suzie's marriage to university lecturer Cob is worlds away from Piper's former high-profile marriages to Chris Evans and Laurence Fox). Piper sends herself up brilliantly throughout - for example, apologising for her singing voice by noting that "it was all autotune" when she was a young pop star.

It's billed as a comedy drama, but the show definitely leans more into the drama than the comedy. There are some great lines and visual gags throughout, but it's not the kind of show you'll be constantly laughing with. It also plays around with other formats, most notably horror, soap, reality television and musicals, and is at its most fun when letting loose with the boundaries of genre. Prebble's dialogue is sharp and the whole thing is beautifully shot with some great settings, costume and make-up.

Although the show centres on Suzie, later episodes focus almost equally on her best friend and manager Naomi (Leila Farzad) who is trying to manage her own personal and professional life while also trying to save Suzie. Farzad gives us a touching portrait of a woman whom Suzie sees as a rock, but who is actually struggling quite a lot herself. It's a shame, though, that her story only really picks up in the second half of the series rather than being a focus throughout.

Alongside Naomi's story, we see the impact of Suzie's meltdown on her husband and young son, Frank (Matthew Jordan-Caws), who is deaf and communicates primarily through signing. It is welcome that his deafness is never portrayed as a 'problem' - although the show does highlight some of the challenges for a deaf child in a hearing world. Jordan-Caws is a brilliant young actor in his first TV role, and it's great to see deaf child actors having opportunities like this to shine.

I would have liked a bit more backstory at times - we get little insight into why Cob and Suzie got together in the first place, and their relationship always feels a bit unlikely as a result. We see glimpses of Suzie's childhood that illuminate her history with men, and there's one episode in which we meet her wider family, but overall, the series left me with several questions about the characters' motivations and trajectories.

That does mean, of course, that there's a lot of material to mine in a second series. While these eight episodes could easily stand alone as a one-off, I'd be surprised if this is the last we have heard of Suzie Pickles.

*There are spoilers ahead in the next two paragraphs, so skip past if you wish to avoid them!*

Given that the plot is driven by the leak of a photograph, it is unsurprising that the show explores the dynamics between gender and power in the entertainment industry. A key thread is the different experiences of Suzie and her 'mystery lover' once the photos are leaked. I have no problem with the show pointing out that Suzie suffers all the consequences of the leak, while the man in the photo is protected by his power within an industry that has a long history of allowing predatory male directors, producers and showrunners to behave without consequences for either their personal or professional life.

However, it is very heavily implied that he is even less likely to face consequences because he is black, and the white TV executives are afraid to fire him. I appreciate that the target here is intended to be the hypocrisy of the white executives so desperate to appear 'diverse' that they don't want to discipline a black man. However, in this year especially, when we are all becoming increasingly aware of the way innocent black men are unfairly treated as criminals just because of the colour of their skin, the idea that a black man can get away with inappropriate behaviour in part because he is black feels uncomfortable.

*End of spoilers*

Despite some flaws, this is a very watchable and entertaining series. There's a breezy energy to the whole show, helped by its short episodes (most are just over 30 minutes) that makes it perfect for binge-watching. Prebble and Piper clearly work well together, and I suspect (and hope) that their partnership will have more in store for us in the future.

I Hate Suzie is available on Sky Atlantic and NOWTV. Signed versions of all episodes are also available

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From This Author - Ruth Deller

Ruth Deller is variously an academic, an am dram enthusiast, a television watcher, a Kylie fan and a vegetarian.

... (read more about this author)

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