I Hate Suzie Too review – Amy Winehouse and Caroline Flack haunt this astounding show
It may be the televisual equivalent of a panic attack – but TV doesn’t get any weirder, sadder or more fearlessly magnificent
My God. If you thought the start of I Hate Suzie was claustrophobic, just wait until you see the start of I Hate Suzie Too (Sky Atlantic). It features a one-take shot that’s basically a panic attack in televisual form. Suzie, made up like a clown and sporting a silver bow so giant it’s closer to a straitjacket, is trailed along backstage corridors of a TV studio by the holy trinity of nightmare entourages: agent, publicist, production assistant. They harass, chivvy, cajole, flatter and break the news that the tell-all by her vengeful ex-husband, Cob, has just gone online. Suzie sweats, swears, tries to detach her mic, and gets a fake eyelash stuck on her first ex-husband’s gold sequin jacket. Welcome to the anti-Christmas special our brutally misogynistic culture deserves.
It’s comeback time. When we last saw Suzie (Billie Piper) she was screaming “Fuuuuuuuuuuck!” in a petrol station upon discovering she was pregnant. Her marriage and career appeared to be over. Six months on, she is dancing for clicks (and her life) on a grubby talent show called Dance Crazee Xmas. Which falls in a dark chasm somewhere between Strictly, Love Island and the fifth, sixth and seventh rings of Dante’s hell. Which are Anger, Heresy, and Violence. I know this now. You should see my Google search history since watching this almighty Beelzebub of a show. Just like the magnificent first series, the visionary duo of Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper take us to dark places. Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Caroline Flack and Amber Heard are the ghosts haunting this Christmas horror story.
It turns out Suzie can dance. Like, really dance. Over three episodes, she dances like Marcel Marceau in the midst of a manic meltdown. She dances like she’s in Beyoncé’s Homecoming. She whirls around like one of Pina Bausch’s dancers. Paul Roberts, who worked with Piper when she was a child star in the 90s, is responsible for the remarkable choreography. Here, dance functions as a radical id-space where Suzie can escape the prison society built for her the moment she entered the industry and just let go. It’s extraordinarily beautiful, exhilarating and sad. And she still gets voted off in the first week. Because everyone hates Suzie.
If anything, I Hate Suzie Too goes even further than the first series. It’s even weirder. Angrier. Sadder. Just like its antiheroine. In the first episode Suzie has an at-home abortion. She takes the pills, spreads a towel on the bed and waits for the clots to come. A revelatory sequence follows in which she repeatedly goes to the toilet to change her sanitary towel. She rips off one bloodied pad. Sticks on another. Flushes the toilet. Over and over again. In I Hate Suzie Too, certain noises are amplified. Sometimes it’s Suzie’s phone, or the creak of the heavy wooden door at her lawyer’s office as she tries to negotiate getting her son Frank for Christmas. Here, it’s the mundane soundtrack to an abortion that will be familiar to so many millions of women. I’ve never seen anything like it on screen before.
But there are hilarious moments too. Such as when Suzie’s fierce new agent Sian (Anastasia Hille) shows her some toe-curling early VT from Dance Crazee and asks what word springs to mind. “Teeth?” replies Suzie. Meanwhile, the dynamic between her and (now ex) agent Naomi Jones (Leila Farzad) continues to be the real central relationship of the show. There’s a wonderful scene in which they meet up in a bar after months of estrangement and, after pretending to one another (and themselves) that they’re not drinking, end up getting wrecked and setting the world to rights in a series of bars, toilet cubicles and dancefloors.
Elsewhere, the comedy is closer to a skewer twisted into the gut. “Oh, have we reached the go fuck yourself stage?” asks Sian during another of their excruciating crisis talks. “Mind if we bypass that and go straight to apologising because you’ve hit rock bottom with Pete Doherty in Margate and someone filmed you saying something about Islam that was taken completely out of context … ” Or, when Suzie, in response to her amiable ex-husband Bailey (Douglas Hodge) tells her: “Easy for you to say: you’re a musician. You can get away with anything. Like Bowie can fuck kids and everyone’s like, oh, it’s Bowie. Even I’m like that!”
There is literally nowhere I Hate Suzie Too won’t go. Like its antiheroine, who is monstrous in many ways but also lovable, relatable and real, it is completely fearless. It is also unbearably stressful to watch, and the scenes between Suzie and Frank are unspeakably sad. If anything, the genre this so-called comedy drama most lurches towards is horror, and the denouement of episode two – in which Suzie, compelled by a howl of pain, cuts off her newly bleached hair – was so distressing I couldn’t sleep for hours. This is how much this show crawls under the skin. I Hate Suzie Too is a tour de force, in which Piper, once again, gives the performance of a lifetime.
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