I Hate Suzie Too: an anti-Christmas special

I Hate Suzie Too: an anti-Christmas special

Thursday, 15th December 2022
I Hate Suzie Too (credit: Sky)
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon

I Hate Suzie Too confronts the grotesque price of female celebrity as it careers through the chaotic backstory of Suzie Pickles. Harry Bennett reports

Open your Christmas TV guide this year and, amid all the wholesome dramas, jolly comedies and gooey romcoms, you’ll find a glaring anomaly.

I Hate Suzie, Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper’s brutally frank and funny 2020 tragicomedy about the undoing of an actor named Suzie Pickles (played by Piper), is getting the Christmas treatment on Sky Atlantic.

It picks up Suzie’s story with her still floundering in the fallout of leaked photos of an affair. With her career, marriage and family life dragged through the mud, any festivities and happy-ever-afters are unlikely. As per its tagline, I Hate Suzie Too is an “anti-Christmas special”.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Prebble has mixed feelings about this so-called “most wonderful time of the year”. As well as some ideas for reform.

“I think I do like it,” she says, “but I think it should be every four years, instead of yearly – like an election or the World Cup.”

Her ambivalence is understandable given that, “women, particularly, feel a lot of pressure and chaos around this time. It’s supposed to be a holiday but for parents – and for mothers, particularly – it’s another extremely pressured and expensive performance they have to deliver. They have to make sure it’s ‘happy’ and ‘fun’ enough.”

The season therefore provides the perfect backdrop for I Hate Suzie Too. As well as satirising stardom, the show has always interrogated gender. From the very first episode, when Suzie discovers that her phone has been hacked just before her house is invaded by a film crew for a photoshoot, it puts you in the shoes of a woman overexposed.

Billie Piper as Suzie Pickles in I Hate Suzie Too (credit: Sky)

As well as being a celebrity, she is a wife to her husband, Cob (Daniel Ings), and a mother to her son, Frank (Matthew Jordan-Caws). As she struggles to live up to the demands of all three, it forces us to recognise that our notions of the roles of women are at once restrictive and excessive.

It’s a character study that Prebble conceived in tandem with Piper. The two have been best friends and creative partners since working on Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007). Their obvious chemistry showed in how easily Piper inhabited Prebble’s writing, capturing all of Suzie’s imperfections and contradictions.

But, because Piper was in every scene, many of which demanded an extra­ordinary range and commitment, it amounted to “a very gruelling schedule”, says Prebble, and one that they didn’t want to repeat.

This time, they’ve gone for “something shorter but more substantial”, a three-parter that starts a few months on from the first series. Suzie is now crashing at her sister’s flat and racking up legal fees in her divorce proceedings. So she turns to a reality show called Dance Crazee in a desperate attempt to save herself from financial and reputational ruin.

The show, which Prebble describes as “Strictly Come Dancing meets Love Island”, is very much the backbone of this series, which follows Suzie through the competition from her first dance to the final.

First things first, though. The format needed fine tuning, and Prebble went so far as to consult ex-Pointless host and game-show guru Richard Osman. A key feature of Dance Crazee is that the contestants can swap partners, which throws up all sorts of difficulties. But Osman’s mind, says Prebble, “can work out all those sort of things really quickly; he was useful and gave me a sense of structure. But, of course, we also took liberties. I’m sure he’ll be furious.”

As for whether appearances on reality TV have an impact on perceptions of public figures, “That’s one to ask Matt Hancock,” she says, referring to the disgraced former health secretary, who recently made the final of I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

Lucy Prebble (credit: Knight Hall)

I Hate Suzie Too quickly launches into the action, with Suzie nailing a first dance that is so fiercely choreographed it feels as if she is literally wrestling back control of her narrative. But it is soon followed by a sequence as anxiety-­inducing as any that have come before. Her private life comes crashing in and she realises just how far she’s fallen while under the glare of publicity. There is only a moment’s respite before we cut back six months to Suzie in the throes of having an abortion.

Prebble thought it was important to detail this episode, especially after the overturning in June by the US Supreme Court of Roe vs Wade and other attacks on women’s rights.

“The conversation around understanding pregnancy, miscarriage and abortion is so embarrassingly myopic and patriarchal, particularly in the US, that it’s an absolute scandal of mis­ogyny, ignorance, and horror,” she argues. “Any truthful, thoughtful representation of an experience of abortion is valuable.”

Coupled with the ruthless divorce and child custody negotiations, and the ongoing drama with her best friend and former agent, Naomi (Leila Farzad), it all makes for a series that is arguably even more chaotic than the first.

Prebble says that it might have something to do with her office. “I wrote the show in a cheap, small hotel room in New York. I only understood why it was so cheap at 3:00pm on the first day, when I realised it sat right next to the Holland tunnel, a road leading out of the city. From 3:00pm until 9:00pm every single day it was jammed with traffic, endlessly beeping in unison for hours. I feel like that sound of angry frustration runs under the show.”

Ultimately, though, the chaos is ­carefully calibrated. A case in point is that, when it came to plotting the finale, Prebble handmade a “rudimentary little model theatre” to keep track of where everyone was in the Dance Crazee studio, both onstage and backstage, with paperclips for people.

What exactly inspired such a chaotic trajectory for Suzie in this series? Prebble replies that it was the real-life stories of such cultural figures as Britney Spears and Amber Heard, figures who have faced humiliation in extremely public scandals.

She explains: “We lack backstory and context for women’s lives in the way we have for men’s. So women get branded ‘crazy’ for behaviour that would make rational sense if you followed them through their lives up to that moment.”

In other words, I Hate Suzie Too is the backstory we’ve been lacking.

I Hate Suzie Too premieres on Sky Atlantic and Now TV on 20 December.