Answer me two questions: how many leaked celebrity sex tapes and naked phone hack pics have you heard about in the past decade? Hundreds, right? But honestly, how many times have you ever sat down and really, really considered what the star was going through?
That question of what actually happens to the person whose privacy has been violated (almost always a woman) is explored in new show I Hate Suzie, created by playwright Lucy Prebble and starring Billie Piper as our protagonist.
Suzie Pickles got her break as an innocent 15-year-old singing her socks off in a TV talent show. We meet her at 36 (even though she likes to shave a year off), now a pop-star-turned actress (sound familiar?) for whom work is a bit thin on the ground. She’s done soaps but is still mostly dining out on a bad sci-fi show from over a decade ago. Suzie is married with a kid and has a nice stack of bricks in the country and she’s just got good news — she’s landed the part of a princess in a new family friendly film with the promise of a big fat family friendly fee. And then everything goes to hell.
That moment of exposure, when Suzie finds out her phone has been hacked and pictures of her happily engaged in oral sex with another man is both shocking and surreal. It hits like a pie in the face as we are forced to watch Suzie's mask slowly slip off. The first episode (Shock) is basically the actualisation of the answer to the question: “What’s the worst that could happen?” What is Suzie supposed to do? Pretend it didn’t happen? Deny it? What does she tell her husband (played by Daniel Ings, who you might recognise as Lovesick’s lothario Luke)? How does she explain all of this to her manager/BFF Naomi (played to a tee by Leila Farzad)? And what does it all mean for her marriage? Her career? Her life?
The opening scenes and the chaos that unfolds bring the viewer behind the curtain and into the aftermath of a clusterfuck created by a crime that many still see as "harmless". It all feels uncomfortably up close (literally – for some of the shots the camera is zoomed in so much you feel like you are touching Piper’s face). The result is tightly wound, brilliantly executed, artful, original and darkly funny. You feel for Suzie so much you’ll need two Ibuprofen after the first 30 minutes.
The subject matter gave Prebble so much to expertly play with. The anxieties and inner thoughts of an actress, the dark part of the general public's psyche that revels in the public downfall of a "star", the vicious way the entertainment industry (and others) chew up and spit out women. I Hate Suzie holds a mirror up to celebrity hacks (why always pop stars and actresses and not politicians and business men?). The oddities of being in the public eye and our greed to lift the veil separating us from fame is exposed far more explicitly than any celebrity’s naked body here. It’s dark territory and yet, somehow, though never shying away from it, Prebbles and Piper manage to make you think about all of these things without it feeling like hard work.
Piper is clearly in her element — she knows this world inside out, so her performance doesn’t just get close to the bone, she grinds it up into teeny tiny pieces. She plays Suzie as a slightly neurotic, teeny bit narcissistic, on the edge eccentric with an added dash of Patsy from Ab Fab. She’s really very good.
In episode two (Denial) we deal with the aftermath. Suzie has to attend a ComicCon convention in Birmingham to do a Q&A for the faithful fans of her bad sci-fi series. “They’re all just to be sat there staring at my tits and thinking about me sucking cock,” Suzie tells her manager. “That’s all they ever do anyway babe”, she replies.
Needless to say, the convention goes very wrong, very fast and afterwards Suzie finds herself back in a hotel room with Naomi and a washed up actor in a searingly accurate coke-fuelled hotel room scene complete with nonsensical faux-intellectual arguments, clumsy sex and culminating in one of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard on TV: “I can’t unfuck him”.
People will undoubtedly try and summate I Hate Suzie as, “If Fleabag was famous”, but I Hate Suzie deserves plaudits for creating its own perfectly observed, perfectly absurd brand of drama and comedy. And for pulling off the impossible — creating a needy, greedy celebrity character that you can’t help but like.
All eight episodes of I Hate Suzie are available on Sky Atlantic & NOW TV from Thursday August 27th