Billie Piper’s triumphant return to television hits with a ferocious bang in the Sky Original Production, I Hate Suzie. The show follows Suzie Pickles (Piper), an actress who has been struggling to find her footing in the industry since she shot to fame as a child star on a televised singing contest. We first join Suzie on the morning of a photo shoot, where we learn that a nude photo of her has been hacked and released to the press. The rest of the show exhibits this gradual acceptance process that ensues after this event.
I Hate Suzie is a refreshing take on modern femininity and motherhood. It represents a new wave of women who are being increasingly open about their imperfections, and unafraid to speak of them publicly. Although Suzie may not be open about her own perceived ‘faults’, the show’s ability to showcase them illuminates the same point – we all need to give ourselves some slack.
It is a joy to see Piper in a role that is so rich, contradictory, and uncertain. Having watched her in shows such as Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Penny Dreadful, the anticipation to see her in an onscreen role that felt complex enough to meet her incredible acting capability was high. I Hate Suzie does not disappoint. In a world that can become obsessed with showing strong women, especially those whose whole identity revolves around their strength, it is unbelievably refreshing to spend time with a character that is so inherently contradictory. Whilst being a devoted and loving mother, Suzie is also fighting to keep her career afloat; enjoying the odd line of coke; and taking a naked photo every now and again. She stands as a character that is proving women aren’t one dimensional in an industry where female characters are still not representative in the broader landscape of the industry. In 2018, Women and Hollywood found that male characters were more likely than female characters to have work-related goals (70% compared with 30%) while women were seen to be more likely to have goals related to their personal lives (54% compared with 46%). So how are women generally represented on screen? From these statistics it would be fair to assume that the general representation is that of passivity, potentially even void of any great depth. I Hate Suzie stands as a reminder that female representation doesn’t have to follow this model, that breaking from this mould can in fact be a joy to watch.
It is sometimes easy to forget just how conservative our media landscape is, but you only have to briefly scroll through a tabloid’s website to find an article outlining some mundane celebrity affair, which by showcasing it, inherently demeans it. This idea is something that is explored in great depth in I Hate Suzie. The constant opposition between the public and the private. The idea that while we all internally may deviate from the path of righteousness, externally we all feel this mounting pressure to present ourselves as morally perfect. The bizarre paradox of the media so harshly judging celebrities for decisions that on the grand scheme of things are not that extreme, like taking drugs on the odd occasion, while they themselves feel no qualms in sharing privately produced photos of naked women. The hypocrisy would be laughable if it wasn’t so damaging. With I Hate Suzie, we are given access to the life of someone who is forced to partake in this media circus, and the result is intoxicating. By leading us through this experience, I Hate Suzie showcases how damaging this culture is. Like all great stories, it breeds empathy, challenging its audience to take a very hard, long look at how we so readily consume such conservative media judgements. How we are all, by association, complicit.
Female sexaulity is also explored in considerable detail, a feat given our society’s seeming inability to address female pleasure. The most obvious presentation of this is the record breaking, longest masturbation scene on Television (seven minutes and four seconds, just in case you were looking to break it). When you scrutinise how sex is represented on screen, this inclusion feels almost revolutionary. In an industry where only 4% of people think sex is represented accurately, according to a study, it is liberating to watch Piper struggle to reach climax as she muddles her way through her sexual fantasies. Especially given how little screen time is given to foreplay in relation to real life, with only 27% of sex scenes showing foreplay, compared to 69% of people who said they partook in foreplay most of the time or every time they had sex. Closer to home, British sex education stands as another examples of our collective inability to address female sexual pleasure, given that is is void of any mention of this, while our male counterparts were discussed in considerable depth (or at least for my cohort anyway, lets hope we’ve evolved since then). This invariably meant that most of my female friends only discovered this ‘secret’ power in their much later years. And as such, inclusion of female sexual liberty and pleasure still stands as a rather alien subject in most mainstream telly. Yet another example of the power I Hate Suzie holds.
In opposition to this, we have the sincerity of the characters at the heart of the show, who provide this continual stimulus of humour. Suzie’s very real reaction upon learning that her personal property has been stolen and leaked is immediately contrasted with her home being overrun with makeup artists and photographers demanding her attention. Not wanting to make a fuss, she abides as she doesn’t yet have the agency to say no. So, she is forced to allow this situation to unfold, not even able to get a moment to herself to go to the loo – as everyone there is so insistent on vying for her attention. This intermixed with makeup artists and stylists dismissively stating that they haven’t seen her show because “no one really watches telly anymore”, directly to her face and with no amount of shame makes for a very comical situation. By presenting these dark subjects with such a brutally honest lens we are allowed to see this subject matter for what it is: really quite funny.
Starring alongside Suzie and in what appears to be in complete juxtaposition, we have her uncompromising agent and childhood friend Naomi Jones (Leila Farzad). As a bisexual, asian woman, Naomi must bear the brunt of sexism, homophobia and racism – even in all female spaces when she attends an ‘empowering women’ event when a white woman mindlessly, and then rather viscuously, comments on her race. Which stands as another reminder that our work is not done. Yet she also is flawed. Showcasing that even this woman, a character that Suzie herself hails as being undeniably femenist, liberal and strong willed, can and will make mistakes.
I Hate Suzie’s success feels as if it boils down to one thing: inclusivity. This is a show about the female experience which was written by women, Lucy Prebble and Piper herself. Turns out, getting women to write about being a woman makes for a rather accurate representation of modern day femininity, and as such, produces a successful, funny, rich, complex show. In an ideal world, we won’t need to distinguish the people who have written these shows by their gender, but in this current world, where women account for 20% of writers on programs with no female creators, and only 12% on programs with exclusively male executive producers, the need to be aware of this gender disparity is still unfortunately necessary, especially considering that these figures don’t even scrutinise figures for non-binary folk or anyone else on the broad gender spectrum.
I Hate Suzie is the feminist revolution we all need right now because it will make you feel sane. It will remind you that we’re all a bit unstable and that that’s ok. So, if you’re in need of a reminder to give yourself some slack, whoever you are, this show is it.