Unfortunately, the topic of sexual assault is all too common on the small screen. TV shows from primetime to cable have tackled the topic with differing levels of tact. With the recent events unfolding on Bachelor in Paradise, now more than ever seems like the perfect time to revive a show that deftly dealt with the topic: MTV’s dearly departed Sweet/Vicious.
Sweet/Vicious was a Show About Survivors
On many shows, even well-meaning ones, sexual assault is used as a plot point to drive the action. Too often, it’s used as an “OMG” moment, something that will shock viewers. Other times it’s used to give characters, mostly female, a tragic backstory. In some cases, it’s almost used to justify the bad behavior of prickly, sometimes unlikable female characters like Claire from House of Cards or Mellie on Scandal.
Sweet/Vicious was a series with a truly unusual conceit that somehow managed to work: college co-eds Jules (Eliza Bennett) and Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) become vigilantes who target rapists and abusers when their college justice system fails.
This premise might sound crazy, but the show itself was a great blend of pathos and comedy, with quite a bit of action thrown in for good measure. The show could veer from a murder to a sing-a-long in the space of a single episode without even missing a beat. Now that’s quality television!
On Sweet/Vicious, we learn right away about what happened to Jules and how her assault drives her to do brave and reckless things. Sexual assault isn’t just one in a long line of plot points in the show, it’s the driving motivation of the characters. What happens to Jules has reverberations that go beyond a very special episode and impacts her relationships and friendships.
In Sweet/Vicious we hear the stories of survivors, and how they pick up the pieces. The very real trauma is never glossed over. Jules and the other women she meets along the way in her vigilante quest all have to deal with the repercussions of what happened to them.
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Perhaps the best thing about Sweet/Vicious is just how timely, well-written and even how funny it could be. Despite the heavy material, Sweet/Vicious was a darkly hilarious show, lead by actors who could nail a joke one minute and a complex emotional scene the next.
Lead actresses Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden brought humor and pathos to a “superhero” show unlike anything else on television. Jules and Ophelia felt like real, layered characters who were also kickass vigilantes taking down rape culture on their campus.
We Still Need Sweet/Vicious
The bungling of the topic on Bachelor in Paradise shows just how needed a show like Sweet/Vicious still is on the small screen. Sweet/Vicious was willing to show its characters in sometimes unflattering lights. Being a vigilante undoubtedly seems cool, especially in our superhero-obsessed time, but the show never shied away from the rage that inspired Jules’ quest.
When best friend Kennedy (the always fantastic Aisha Dee) learns that it’s her boyfriend who assaulted her best friend, she at first chooses to believe her boyfriend and blame Jules. Through Kennedy we watch how friendships and support systems can fracture under the strain of sexual assault accusations. It’s a good example of “slut shaming” turned on its head, as Kennedy eventually allows herself to realize the truth of her friend’s confession and throw her garbage boyfriend aside.
Sweet/Vicious was a show aimed at a younger audience that could really make a difference in the way young men and women talk about and treat the topic of sexual assault. It was incredibly important television and unfortunately timely in a world that is still grappling with how to deal sensitively with this subject.
Just as important, it was also an extremely well-written, produced, and acted show. Despite the heavy subject matter, the show managed to be highly enjoyable week-to-week, while still packing a powerful message.
I want to spend more time in showrunner Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s world of kickass ladies taking down rapists and abusers on their campus. With all the superhero shows multiplying on television and streaming services, this is a superhero story that could make a real difference in the lives of its viewers.
Hopefully a smart network (like Amazon?) will realize just how much we all need the powerful vigilantes on Sweet/Vicious gracing our screens again.
What do you think? Do you miss Sweet/Vicious? What network do you think should save it? Sound off in the comments!
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(Images courtesy of MTV)