MTV’s newest, weirdest dramedy
MTV has always been a bizarre participant in the new Golden Age. Mainly trafficking in absurd reality series, every so often it will create a television series aimed at the college age audience that can be superb in many way. Witness the brilliant comedy series Awkward. and Faking It, and the intriguing TV spinoff TeenWolf, series that you just can’t imagine any other network (save perhaps the WB in its glory days) pulling off. Now, they seem to be trying to come up with a series that defies fitting into any genre, and definitely straddles the line between entertainment and good taste. Witness Sweet/Vicious.
The series takes place on a college campus, and centers around two freshmen girls: Jules (Eliza Bennett) a relatively normal girl pledging a sorority, and Ophelia, a Goth loner. Both appear to have little in common, except for one stark reality: earlier in the year, they were each sexually assaulted. Jules seems to be dealing with her trauma far worse — the assault came in a frat party by Nate, a sophomore who is now dating her best friend, Kennedy, and who doesn’t seem to believe that he’s done anything wrong. Ophelia has taken out her rage in another wage — she has become a vigilante who has been assaulted and exacting justice on those on campus who abuse other people. They get their information from the Internet, and a wall bearing the names of people who are victims. (Sadly, this part doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched.)
To a certain extent, Sweet/Vicious is intriguing. Watching Ophelia and Jules try to find vengeance against the wicked is reminiscent of the early days of Dexter, only these girls don’t deliver death to their victims, and because they’re not psychopaths, and are genuine victims, its a lot easier to feel sympathy for them. There’s a certain level of familiarity with the search for authorities, but this is actually more believable than the previous series, because the police force at Miami Metro seemed incredibly clueless as to the killer in their midst. Here, there is a genuine sense of a chase, being followed by the student reporter, Harris, a friend of both girls, who is a hell of a lot sharper then the people on campus. (It’s also an interesting dig at the implied sexism that no one seems willing to even consider the possibility that the vigilante is a woman.)
There’s also an interesting human element, particularly with Jules, as she is still going through the shock of dealing with her assault. Much of the season has been dealing with her trying to build a relationship with art student Tyler Finn, but it is clear, particularly when she tried to have sex with him, that the trauma is far deeper with her than it is with Ophelia who seems to have processed better. In last night’s episode, she finally confronted her rapist in one of the most bold monologues I’ve seen in awhile, but then she immediately lost her best friend, in part because of the suspicious activities she’s been up to as a vigilante.
What makes it hard to figure out is whether Sweet/Vicious should be considered entertainment at all. It takes two of the biggest controversies of our day — sexual assault and violence on campus — and tries to turn into a regular series. There’s also a fair attempt to occasionally do this as a comedy, and while there are some amusing bits, you wonder whether this might be a bridge too far. Both the female leads (Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden) are relative newcomers and both give fine performances, but often the attempt to lighten the material undercuts their work.
Despite all this, Sweet/Vicious is very different, and in some ways, very brave. I don’t know if it has the ability to maintain the courage of its convictions, but in a world where so many series on TV are cookie cutters, its rare to come across a show that is unlike anything else on, even adding the market of streaming. Its also, like Awkward and Faking It, a female run series, which may be another reason it works like it does. I don’t know if it has the potential, even given the lower bar that MTV has, to be a success, but I admire it enough to hope it does. It has enough power to make it worth the effort.
My score: 3.5 stars.