I Hate Suzie Too review: Billie Piper is back in this pitch-black, utterly unsentimental and beautiful show

Billie Piper has been on quite a journey. From teenage popstar (and my first crush) through the tabloid obsession with her marriages to Chris Evans and – shudder – Laurence Fox, to her position, now, as one of Britain’s finest actors. I Hate Suzie – created by Piper along with Diary of a Call Girl collaborator, and Succession writer, Lucy Prebble – was a tremendous showcase for Piper’s ability, and it returns now for a short second season: I Hate Suzie Too. Get ready to be traumatised all over again.

Having hit rock bottom by the end of the first season (marriage ended, career in tatters, an unexpected pregnancy looming), Suzie is now making a home for herself amid the pebbly detritus of her life as was. Her big comeback opportunity – personally as well as professionally – is a sub-Strictly reality TV show called DanceCrazee. But behind the make-up and glitter, leotards and legwarmers, Suzie is hanging by a thread. “How do you feel?” the cheery emcee (Layton Williams) asks her as she comes off the dancefloor, her performance having elicited a stream of negative social media reactions. “Not ideal!” Suzie replies, through her enormous, gritted teeth.

I Hate Suzie Too (as the new season is being styled, quite bizarrely) opens with Suzie performing a strange, clownish piece of interpretive dance. It is pure commedia dell’arte, a thick vein of which runs through the show’s darkly farcical streak. Piper’s incredible facial elasticity, matched by the physicality of her performance, turns her self-destructive streak into a Punch and Judy show where she plays both protagonists. “The team are choosing between you looking moody and you looking miserable,” her new agent, Sian (Anastasia Hille), tells her. “Well, those are my two states,” Suzie replies.

Returning also are newly ex-husband Cob (Daniel Ings) who brings a cruel authority to the divorce proceedings (“Only Suzie matters,” he complains, “only the famous person matters”) and best friend and former agent Naomi (Leila Farzad). New characters emerge, too: Catastrophe’s Douglas Hodge as ex-husband Bailey, and Inbetweener Blake Harrison as grieving lothario Danny. Collectively, they orbit like stray satellites of debris whipped up in Suzie’s tornado of chaos. And as the dance show’s Christmas finale moves ever closer, so the crisis point approaches. The whole thing is mounted as one grand, compulsive farce – and, against this backdrop, the clowns keep dancing.

I feel an instinctive nervousness about any show that wants to be branded “unflinching” (within a few scenes, for example, we see the inside of Suzie’s sanitary pad) but I Hate Suzie Too takes the rough with the smooth, embracing both bodily and mental discomfort. Suzie’s trauma has her spasmodically turning into Freddy Krueger or Pennywise or (though I’m not sure they appreciate the comparison) The Joker. And yet Prebble’s script keeps things from spilling over into either full, squirming discomfort, or total frustration with its tricky protagonist. The humour remains pitch-black (“I want to crawl into a hole and die – slash – take care of my kid,” Suzie tells her agent; “Well, your kid’s not going to be very happy in the hole with a dead mum,” Sian replies) and utterly unsentimental. The pull of the grotesque is balanced, at all times, by the equal counterweight of compassion.

“I’m not a bad mother,” declares Suzie, defiantly. “I’m not a bad dancer. And I’m not a bad person.” Tortured by her insecurities, Suzie is a heroine for our times. And this three-part comeback is a Christmas special for our times. Funny and fierce, I Hate Suzie Too is as beautifully performed as it is, well, unflinching.