In one episode of Sky Atlantic’s “I Hate Suzie,” Suzie (Billie Piper) attends a rehearsal for a new experimental musical titled “The Party of Monica Lewinsky” and finds herself in a circle of her castmates discussing Monica’s possible motivations when she first entered the Oval Office. “Sex,” “power,” and “approval” are all suggested before the director (Joshua James) throws the question to Suzie, who seems annoyed. “People don’t walk around wanting things, that’s not how it is,” she responds, “at least not for women.”
Messy female characters are having a moment in TV. There’s “The Queen Gambit”’s troubled chess-master Beth, who struggles with drug addiction. There’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s simultaneously charming and cruel Fleabag. There’s “The Flight Attendant’s” Cassie, whose murder-mystery storyline explores trauma and memory with touching honesty. It is certainly refreshing to see television begin to flesh women out, to give female characters the space to be imperfect, while still establishing them as worthy of humanity and love. A lot of these shows, however, focus on giving excuses for their character’s complexity, and often (at least in the case of the three shows listed above, that excuse is trauma and grief. While these women’s stories are important and often masterfully told, there’s still an element of oversimplification here: the idea that women can be flawed, or “complicated” — but only if they have a good enough reason.
“I Hate Suzie” takes the next step forward. The British dark comedy premiered for U.S. audiences on HBO Max last November and follows Suzie, an actress and former child pop-star, as she grapples with the blowback of having her nudes leaked. Suzie is a complicated person, sometimes even just a bad person. The show, however, is not dedicated to diagnosing her; but it cares, rather, about taking her feelings and experiences seriously, which is especially impactful in a show whose premise is focused on society’s tendency to take voyeuristic joy in female pain.
While “I Hate Suzie” had high ratings when it originally premiered in the U.K., the show has never quite found a U.S. audience. HBO Max does not release data on how popular its shows are, but it’s obvious that “I Hate Suzie” never quite picked up the same steam as some of its thematic counterparts — neither receiving the same press attention nor awards nods as, say, “The Queen’s Gambit” or “The Flight Attendant” which were all released around the same time. There has been little talk so far of a second season, which is unfortunate. Not because the story necessarily needs one, but because, without the additional press a second season might bring, it seems possible that, as streaming platforms are over-saturated with content vying for viewer attention, “I Hate Suzie” may drift into irrelevance. “I Hate Suzie” is worth watching, not just because it is good TV, but because TV that takes its female protagonist’s “complicatedness” and humanity seriously in a way other similar shows have sometimes failed to do.
Season One of “I Hate Suzie” is available on HBO Max. The “Hidden Gems” series features Crimson Arts writers weighing in on their favorite under-rated shows and why they’re worth checking out.
— Staff writer Mira S. Alpers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.