Prepare to love I Hate Suzie: Review
Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble reunite for a brilliant, darkly comic saga of celebrity and modern womanhood.
Dirty pics hacked out of a B-list celeb's cell phone: From this tacky-tawdry premise comes a bloody brilliant exploration of modern womanhood. Blending darkly comic whimsy with painfully funny truths, I Hate Suzie — co-created by Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble (Secret Diary of a Call Girl) — tells a wholly unique story about the liberation that comes from total exposure.
Piper stars as Suzie Pickles, a former teen pop star turned working actress living out in the English countryside with her husband, Cob (Daniel Ings), and young son, Frank (Matthew Jordan-Caws). Save for a gig on sci-fi show about Nazi zombies, she's largely out of the cultural conversation. Then a hacker splashes naughty pics of Suzie — and a man who is definitely not her husband — all over the internet, and suddenly Ms. Pickles is more relevant than she's been in years.
With the help of her childhood friend/imperturbable manager Naomi (Leila Farzad, briskly hilarious), Suzie stumbles foggily through the requisite steps of damage control. Is it better to make a public statement or stay silent? How can she get Cob to forgive her? Should she quit the zombie show, where she met her secret lover, even though she's the chief breadwinner of her family? But Piper and Prebble are focused less on the agony of public humiliation than they are on their heroine's internal aftermath. The narrative is structured as a journey through grief; episodes are titled "Shock," "Denial," "Bargaining," "Anger," and the like. For Suzie, the most devastating potential loss precipitated by the scandal isn't her career or even her marriage — it's the illusion that she is actually happy with her life.
I Hate Suzie (premiering Nov. 19 on HBO Max) is stylistically fluid, matching the mood of Suzie’s quasi-Kübler-Ross stages with corresponding visual flourishes. The premiere, "Shock," is filled with tense close-ups, capturing every micro-expression of Suzie's dawning dread. A woozy hotel room drug binge in "Denial" concludes with a nightmarish vision of towering penises, booing Suzie like a disappointed audience. "Fear" — in which Suzie copes with a new stalker threat and Cob's increasing anger — plays like a horror movie, complete with jump scares and discordant strings quivering with danger on the soundtrack. In "Shame," Naomi keeps interrupting Suzie's sexual fantasies to critique her choices ("Everything you think is sexy is based on what men have told you is sexy for thousands of years"). "Bargaining," meanwhile, features what may be the most poignant, beautifully shot depiction of Nazi zombies disemboweling a victim that's ever been committed to the screen.
Piper gives an extraordinary performance. Suzie is a punishing role, requiring a constant stream of simultaneous and contradictory moods: panic and composure, repressed resentment and outward acquiescence, lingering shame and burgeoning defiance. In "Anger," Suzie's newfound infamy helps her land the role of Monica Lewinsky in a new musical. When the insufferable director (Joshua James) asks her to articulate her character's motivations, she is flummoxed. "People don't walk around wanting things," she says. "That's not how it is — at least not for women." Minutes later, though, she's had enough of his self-important blather, and she decides to leave. "Oh, okay, all right. Well, f--- you, man. F--- you. Do you want me to sing it for you? Shall I sing it?" Reader, she does. Piper, herself a former teen pop star, belts out the profanity with glorious power, her vibrato fueled by cathartic rage. It's a perfect modern TV moment: an instantly meme-able character breakthrough.
The eight-episode series tells a complete story, and the finale, "Acceptance," is an emotionally wrenching treasure. But I Hate Suzie should be Piper and Prebble's Fleabag moment. If we're lucky, they'll bless us with one more season of Hate to love, before heading off to explode even more TV norms. Grade: A