There are three new episodes of I Hate Suzie coming this week (brilliantly called I Hate Suzie Too) and in honour of this, I’ve written an appreciation post for the excellent first series. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend giving it a look. It’s available on Now TV in Ireland and the UK, and HBOMax in the US.
What I’ve written below is fairly theme-heavy because I think this show puts really interesting stories on screen. Things that are not rare but are rarely shown on screen, things that are dark and depressing. It does this with a wonderfully lightness of touch which I really admire. This show is funny. The writing is great, the performances are spot-on, it looks fantastic but it’s what it depicts that really interests me.
I Hate Suzie is created by Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper. Piper plays a character loosely based on her own life called Suzie Pickles. In the first episode Suzie finds out that intimate photos of her, have been hacked and stolen and posted online. She has to carry on working through this news as her house has been invaded by a large crew for a photo shoot. The series explores the fallout from this abuse of privacy and the effect it has on her work, her relationships and her life.
The ads and images for I Hate Suzie make it look fun – all bright colours and silly faces, fabulous outfits, a bit of singing. And while it is very funny and looks great, it is also a bleak look at being a woman in a patriarchal society. This is one of the things that makes the show so good; it plays with your expectations. Those fun, silly moments are there, there is also a lot of darkness. As you would expect for a show that is partly about the aftermath of an assault. The sharing of intimate photos is abuse, and in Ireland, a criminal offense. However, in the show, as in life, it is treated an a minor thing; it’s an inconvenience for Suzie’s job, evidence of infidelity for her husband and a source of much slagging from her family. Even the official police investigation concludes that “the victim contributed to her victimisation” and there’s not a whole lot they can do.
The series has something to say about being a woman and the shit that women put up with. It also gives an insight into why. In 1976’s Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics, Andrea Dworkin wrote “Many women, I think, resist feminism because it is an agony to be fully conscious of the brutal misogyny which permeates culture, society, and all personal relationships.” Almost 50 years later, this still feels true. Women can resist feminism by choosing not to see inequality, instead convincing themselves that it is a thing of the past. They subconsciously choose to play the game, fitting in with society’s idea of what a woman should be, believing that if they get it right, everything will be alright.
This is the strategy that Suzie seems to have chosen. She is a people-pleaser. Her style is feminine and girly – lots of colour, polka-dots, bows. She tries not to rock the boat and agrees to things she doesn’t want to do because it’s easier than saying no. And this is paying off. She has a successful, well-paid career, a husband and child, a beautiful home. Despite all this, she still cannot escape the trap of misogyny. The sharing of intimate photos is a way of taking women down a peg or two, putting them in their place, especially if they seem to be getting a little bit too big for their boots.
Suzie’s best friend and agent Naomi has chosen a different route. She dresses in serious pant-suits. She has thrown herself into her work, making it the most important thing in her life. She is practical and business-minded. She’s one of the boys. This still doesn’t protect her from the patriarchy. She is also betrayed by her own body as she learns that her fertile window is closing fast, and earlier than expected.
Both women have to deal with a wide range of shitty men. As well as the patriarchal society keeping her in her place, Suzie also has two men in the life to help keep her in line. They are her husband Cob and her lover Carter. These are not villainous men; they definitely consider themselves Nice Guys, they may even describe themselves as feminists. They believe that they want what’s best for Susie, as long as it doesn’t conflict with their own interests in any way. To ensure this, they lie to her, they manipulate and gas-light her. In Cob’s case, he expects Suzie to do most of the parenting while also being the main breadwinner. Naomi encounters her own fair share of shitty men in the form of a stranger on a train and a terrible first date. Both women have sex they don’t really want but feel obligated to have. Suzie pretends to take drugs to keep her needy husband happy.
The most important relationship at the heart of the show is between Suzie and Naomi. They have known each other since they were teenagers and have been working together almost as long, so it’s no surprise that their relationship is messy, difficult and more than a bit co-dependent. When preparing to do press and talk about the leaked photos, Naomi coaches Suzie in how to feel about the photos and how it shouldn’t be shameful for a woman to enjoy sex. Later, we spend a lot of time inside Suzie’s head as she tries to figure out a sexual fantasy, and Naomi is there all the time, giving advice and encouragement and also criticising her and her choices. But Suzie also bosses her around, sending her to get drugs both pharmaceutical and recreational.
This show ticks a lot of boxes for me because it’s about lots of things I’m interested in, but it’s also really good television. It’s beautifully structured. The story and tension build in a really satisfying way across the series but there are also great stand-out moments in every episode. It’s very visually striking. When Suzie first finds out about the phone hack, the camera work becomes shaky and you can feel her woozy shock. In a later episode, in a very funny scene, Suzie is trying to hurry home to her son’s birthday party but needs to buy a pair of shoes. The shop assistant moves in comical slow-motion, mimicking that feeling we’ve all had when we’re in a hurry and the rest of the world is insisting on taking their sweet time. Another episode ends with an aerial shot of Suzie having her guts ripped out by zombies. She’s shooting a scene for the tv show she works on. As the camera zooms out and upwards, it feels like Suzie is dissociating from her body while the scene is being shot, like she’s lost something that was hers. These wonderful creative visuals are used to bring us inside Suzie’s head. In a way, they are the voice-over for the first seven episodes before we hear what Suzie’s actually thinking in the final episode.
The first series ends with a great closing episode and it’s one of the things that makes the whole series so satisfying.
I haven’t seen the new episodes but going from the trailer, it looks like Suzie is finding how difficult it can be when you stop playing the roles expect you play and start putting yourself first, when you start pushing back against the patriarchy. To make things more difficult, she is doing this while taking part in a dance competition where the public votes to keep their favourites. It sounds like it will be just as dark and just as funny as the first series. I’m also looking forward to seeing more spectacular outfits.