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I Hate Suzie review: Billie Piper’s nude photo hack satire is dark comedy at its most frenetic

Playing a thinly disguised version of herself, Piper is all smiles, grimaces and tears

Ed Cumming
Thursday 27 August 2020 12:08 BST
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Trailer for Billie Piper satire: I Hate Suzie

I Hate Suzie (Sky Atlantic) reunites the writer Lucy Prebble with her friend Billie Piper, 13 years after Secret Diary of a Call Girl proved to the world that Piper was more than just a singer. Both women have had illustrious careers since. Among other projects, Prebble has written two excellent plays, Enron and A Very Expensive Poison, and co-written the best thing on TV, Succession. Between The Effect, Great Britain and Yerma, Piper has proved herself a talented stage actress alongside near-constant TV work. Last year she made her directorial debut with Rare Beasts.

In the new series, Piper plays a thinly disguised version of herself called Suzie Pickles. Like Piper, Suzie was a teenage pop-star before she moved into acting. At the start of the first episode, Pickles is living in pastoral bliss with her husband Cob (Daniel Ings) and son Frank (Matthew Jordan-Caws), who’s deaf. Her agent and best friend, Naomi (Leila Farzad), tells her she has just landed a big role as a Disney princess.

Life is peachy, until she checks her phone and discovers compromising photos of her have been hacked and leaked online. It’s not only that they show her having sex, but they show her having sex with a man who is clearly, for rather graphic reasons that are slowly revealed, not her husband. A right old pickle.

The eight 30-minute episodes follow Suzie as she tries to unravel herself from this predicament. Aside from her embarrassment, Cob is put out, and it’s not the kind of thing Disney tends to look for in their princesses. In the second instalment, Pickles visits a convention for a Doctor Who-type sci-fi programme called Quo Vadis. She is ambushed by a journalist and tries to deny that it’s her in the pictures, with more disastrous consequences.

Much of I Hate Suzie is filmed in a frenetic, fast-cut style that reflects Suzie’s descent into this contemporary nightmare. Ings is convincing as the slightly-too-nice him indoors, and Farzad gives the straight-man pal an unexpected slipperiness. Naomi enjoys the perks of being a celebrity’s best mate, but feels a corrosive envy, too, from being at the beck and call of someone who she believes is less intelligent than her and seemingly unable to handle her own affairs.

Piper is rarely out of shot, but justifies the screen time with a performance that conveys Suzie’s turbulent and fast-changing emotions. We see her face in close-up as it crumples and rearranges itself, smiles and grimaces and tries to hold back tears. Almost nobody in her life is what she seems.

Piper has a rare gift for eliciting sympathy, even as Pickles keeps making new mistakes in her effort to disguise the old ones. What emerges is a black-comedy-horror about female friendship, modern fame, and the impossibility of true privacy in a world where everyone has an online video camera in their pockets. You might lie to yourself, or your friends, or your fans, but the little black box in your hand can always betray you.

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