5 out of 5
Created by: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
covers season 1
No, I was not expecting quality TV to emerge from MTV. But, hey, this is that peak TV era we’ve been hearing about lately (and hearing about its imminent collapse…) so the law of averages and something something. But a bit more ‘credit where it’s due’ beyond chalking it up to an eventuality: This is a topic that’s perfect for the station, and the tone it strikes simply would not be a natural fit elsewhere. While MTV is no longer exactly the voice of the alternative youth it once was, it does still represent a unique pre-adult demographic, and they’re the tastemakers who become tomorrow’s NPR favorite… So Sweet / Vicious is a show for them, yes, speaking for that demo and also giving them food for thought, but by representing the same responsibly and maturely (in context of the ages represented), it acts as a conduit for us old fogeys to hook into and see: This is what’s going on; these are important topics. That we can be entertained by it at the same time that we’re also prompted to reflect edges into that five star territory, even if, frankly, the show struggles a little bit with figuring out how to leverage itself out of strictly being a dark revenge tale.
Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) is your sassy, free-wheeling, sex-positive, weed-dealing, tech-savvy green-haired cool chick; the kind of uber-awesome girl we all wish we knew but whom is still cast as the outcast in media. Thankfully Dearden plays her with enough bite that it makes sense: She wants to be an outcast, and keeps herself purposefully at arm’s length. Separately, we’re introduced to a black-clad, masked ass-kicker who puts the beat down on a college lad who has sexually assaulted someone. Sweet / Vicious makes its moral grey stance right away: said beatdown is bloody and direct. It’s celebratory, cut with fun music, but not cartoonish. Later, Ophelia stumbles across this same ass-kicker in action, and uses her general know-how to unmask them: It’s Jules (Eliza Bennett), a blond-haired, smiling sorority girl, with – seemingly – all the positivity and traits that would imply. An unlikely partnership is born, and over the course of ten episodes, Sweet / Vicious takes that partnership through a smartly realistic representation of cause and effect: Of the seriousness of what they’re doing, and of the emotional toll it can take.
This decision – to deal with the issue of assault and not just “solve” it with quick-cut karate – is where the show earns its stripes and deserved accolades. The behaviors depicted cut too close to the truth to be ignored, and again, invigorated by the age-appropriate point of view, there’s a sense of legitimacy that might not come across on a different station.
Some of this is grain-of-salt, of course. Ophelia picks up the vigilante trade rather quickly, and, as mentioned, the show has to pivot somewhat in its last chapters to figure out how to not directly promote retaliatory beatings as solutions and also leave things open for another season. It’s actually successful on both points, but it does take the focus away from some of the deeper emotional work plied in prior episodes. Still, the characters and concept are strong throughout, and the bulk of the series so greatly exceeds expectations that this shift is easy to forgive (and is a good direction for exploration in a second season…).
The unfortunate reality is that predatory and ignorant behavior is all around us. There have been plenty of shows that cast a light on that, but Sweet / Vicious’ MTV-ized take has a tang of truth to it that makes its point of view powerful. That its filtered through something akin to the superhero craze and then dosed with a relatively realistic response to that takes the show to its own unique level.