I Hate Suzie (2020)
Words by Fiona Callow
I Hate Suzie (2020)
Female characters no longer have to be likeable, or relatable in order to be fully realised-and television is all the better for it. Gone are the tired stereotypes of femme fatale or good little housewife, to offer us characters who are both genuinely a mess, but also show glimmers of hope. As they say, get you a girl that does both-or all of it.
When Lucy Prebble- accomplished writer and producer of such successes as Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Succession pitched her new idea for a television series, she was initially met with rejection from broadcasters who dismissed it on the grounds that ‘we already have our woman-having-a-breakdown show'.
If we can use our imaginations to speculate that the broadcaster in question was the BBC for example, and their ‘hysterical women’ were the instant cult classics Fleabag or I May Destroy You, then they failed to acknowledge two fundamental points. One would simply be what made their own show wildly, stratospherically successful, but more importantly they were blind to the cultural shift that was taking place.
Female characters simply no longer needed to be nice to be relatable; in fact, what the audience craved was flaws. Messy, infuriating, complex and therefore all the more human for it. Male characters have been this way for years, but their actions have been backed up by the stereotypical females they play against- think the adulterous husband, with the ‘unhinged’ wife, the gangster with the heart of gold whose mother never showed him love, the cold and emotionally unavailable businessman who transforms the life of a down and out woman.
But now, something revolutionary- a woman who won’t be saved or condemned, who is neither femme fatale villain, or simpering heroine, who can’t be neatly filed away into either ‘nasty’ or ‘nice’. A character so multifaceted that she can reflect many personality traits, often simultaneously.
Enter Suzie Pickles.
"She's a nightmare," Prebble told NME magazine of her protagonist, played to perfection by Billie Piper.
"We really weren't interested in making her 'likeable' in inverted commas, or even particularly relatable, because that's something that's been pushed down our throats when creating characters for a long time, especially when it comes to women. We're sort of experimenting in this show, I guess, with showing you someone who genuinely is a mess - not somebody who seems like a mess, but underneath it all she's a go-getter.” Even though we can see the twisted and toxic path of stardom and celebrity that has led Suzie to the sort of self-annihilating decision making that she displays time and time again, we aren’t invited to use this to wholly alleviate her from her own intrinsic negative personality traits. Sympathy isn’t courted; instead it is found in the small moments such as when Suzie visits a sick child in hospital- yet we lose her again when she fails to show her own child the same kindness.
But — despite what Suzie might have to say about it — the show isn’t all about her. Other female characters such as Naomi- played brilliantly with a blunt, no-nonsense attitude by Leila Farzad- are also full fleshed out, not just afterthoughts to the main female lead. Her own personal development involving having a family of her own isn’t merely a barely explored sub-plot that doesn’t go anywhere. She also has some brilliant one-liners, such as when she’s addressing Suzie’s husband regarding the nude photos, which later turn out not to feature him: “I’m sorry the world’s seen your d**k, but also – f**k off, slightly”.
Perhaps the world is beginning to wake up to the power these narratives have to compel audiences. It was announced earlier this year that the show has been renewed, with filming to begin in 2022.
Time and time again, we are outraged, appalled, disappointed by her behaviour, and the way those in her world behave towards her too. We simultaneously curse the system that casts judgement upon Suzie, while fighting our own judgement when she ruins another moment of hope. Piper skilfully keeps her character teetering on the borderline between charismatic and repellent, drawing you inexplicably into the chaos.
We might not hate Suzie, but we also don’t always like her- and that’s precisely the point.