Female writers have long fought for the visibility and credit they deserve on British TV. In 2018, an open letter from a large group of female screenwriters argued that TV drama was “overwhelmingly written by men”, while research published the same year showed that less than 15% of primetime episodes are predominantly written by women.
This representation gap perhaps explains why female friendship and partnership – even now – is not portrayed on TV in quite the same way that we recognise it as in real life.
Too often, female leads in TV are characterised as jealous and competitive of one another: while the loyal, deep-rooted and creative bonds we know to exist between women somehow take a backseat.
At the same time, women themselves are often painted as glossy, one-dimensional characters: rather than the messy, weird and complex reality of womanhood that we all know to be true.
So it’s great to see Billie Piper call out her I Hate Suzie co-creator, Lucy Prebble in a moving post on Instagram this week.
In case you haven’t heard of it yet, I Hate Suzie is the new Sky Atlantic drama based around a 30-something Hollywood star, Suzie Pickles, whose life unravels amid an explicit photo leak.
Starring Piper as the wayward protagonist, and written by Prebble, the full series dropped earlier this week to rave reviews from critics and the public alike (#IHateSuzie is currently trending on Twitter).
Amid growing excitement around the dark comic-drama, Piper paid tribute to her “lady love” and “boss writer” Prebble, saying: “Your pen is the strongest.”
Piper’s words are poignant because – in an industry that’s still dominated by men – it shows just how powerful creative partnerships between women can be.
Piper and Prebbles worked together previously on ITV drama Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and – based on the early runaway success of I Hate Suzie – their chemistry has once again paid off in a big way.
The post also illustrates the kind of generosity of spirit that is often spectacularly missing in media-driven narratives of women working together (think of the thousands the column inches devoted to “tensions” between the females casts of Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives).
Piper is able to pay tribute to Prebble in such an open and warm way because, like many women who work together, she can celebrate her talent without feeling threatened by it.
Not only that, but female writing talent such as Piper describes in Prebble is increasingly leading the way in TV, creating the kind of shows that women truly want to watch.
Think of Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe or Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge: like I Hate Suzie, they are TV series that show women who are sexual, complex, funny and deeply flawed: in other words, characters we can all relate to.
And if I Hate Suzie feels very real in a gritty, confessional way, that’s because it draws from the real-life intimacy between Piper and Prebble.
“We have a very similar taste in dark humour and that’s really helpful,” Piper told Stylist in an interview earlier this month. “Within our friendship, there’s very little Lucy can say to me that is shocking or frightening. And I think that works both ways. I certainly appreciate that; it makes me feel less alone in life. It’s also definitely the same in the work that we’ve been doing.”
Here’s to the life-long fuel of female collaboration and friendship – long may it continue.
The full series of I Hate Suzie is available on Sky Atlantic now.
Images: Getty, Sky Cinema