Trigger Warning: This show, and therefore this article, discusses sexual violence.
I never thought I'd ever advocate for anyone to watch an MTV series — at least not since Say What Karaoke went off the air — and yet, ever since I started watching Sweet/Vicious about a month ago I've been recommending it to everyone I talk to. Now, I'm here to recommend it to you.
Sweet/Vicious is the young adult action dramedy you never knew you needed. It might not have magic or robots or superpowers, but it certainly appeals to a genre audience. It's like Batman for the frustrated feminist with all the complex morality, vigilante justice and snarkastic humor that implies.
The show follows two college students as they seek violent vigilante vengeance on their campus' plague of sexual deviants. Jules (Eliza Bennett) is a meek-looking sorority girl with some serious martial arts skills and an intense personal trauma fueling her violent hobby. Ophelia (Taylor Dearden), meanwhile, is a brilliant slacker with mad computer skills and a pot-dealing side business. The two come together when Ophelia accidentally runs into Jules mid-takedown, sending them on an insane journey of vengeance, justice and moral ambiguity.
But why exactly should you spend 10 hours of your life watching two girls beat the snot out of sexual predators? If that sentence really isn't enough for you, let me break down a few more reasons.
It's disturbingly timely and oddly cathartic
Sexual assault on college campuses isn't anything new but it has been making headlines more and more recently. Not because they're happening more frequently, mind you, but because for the first time, we're actually willing to talk about it.
According to RAINN, more than 23% of female undergrads (and 5% of males) have reported experiencing rape or sexual assault on campus. On college campuses, sexual violence is twice as common as robbery. Despite those staggering numbers, four out of five victims do not report them to police, citing reasons from assuming the authorities wouldn't do anything to fear of reprisals.
It is this environment that Sweet/Vicious is responding to, sending its two heroes out into the campus night to seek justice for a demographic that largely suffers in silence. They seek out those men who think they've gotten away with a heinous crime and deliver the justice they believe he deserves, vowing to deal out harsher punishments if he becomes a repeat offender.
For those of us endlessly frustrated by the lack of investigation and punishments in cases of rape -- especially campus rape -- a show in which two women take matters into their own hands offers a level of catharsis that's hard to deny, even if your own joy in the suffering of fictional rapists leaves you a bit worried about your own psyche.
It's accurate and nuanced
Most perpetrators of sexual violence know their victims yet when it is portrayed on television, more often than not those rapists are targeting strangers. Not so on Sweet/Vicious.
The show's major plot thru-line -- other than the vigilante justice -- follows Jules as she attempts to deal with the event that sent her down this path to begin with — the night she was raped by her best friend's boyfriend, Nate. By the time the season begins, Jules hasn't told anyone, including her best friend, Kennedy, who is still dating Nate, oblivious to his past crimes.
As the season progresses we see Jules struggle to get her life back on track while dealing with ongoing PTSD and fear that if she tells Kennedy the truth she won't be believed. You see, Nate is the golden boy, a football star and local hero. It's her word against his, and he's got the whole school in his corner.
Meanwhile, Jules and Ophelia take on cases running the gamut of sexual violence as the series attempts to impress upon its viewers what exactly constitutes rape. They deal with issues of consent, date rape and assault by someone you've been dating. They even tackle the subject of hazing and humiliation as a form of sexual assault (which it 100% is), something that rarely gets discussed in such stark terms.
Perhaps the biggest gut punches come when you witness what happens to the girls who do report their rapes — when you listen to so-called authority figures pummel a victim with questions with which we've become all too familiar. Were you drinking? What were you wearing? Do you think you may have asked for it?
It's actually pretty funny
Despite the violence — and the incredibly dark subject matter — at its heart, Sweet/Vicious is actually a comedy, and one that more often than not catches you off guard. Ophelia, especially and unsurprisingly, plays the role of the comic relief, approaching their self-directed destiny with sardonic humor that had me laughing uncomfortably hard at times.
Sweet/Vicious may be dealing with one of the most infuriating injustices of our society but it is determined to make sure you have a good time while the white-hot pool of righteous indignation bubbles in your gut.
Female friendships rule
At the core of Sweet/Vicious, though, is its most important attribute: female friendships and the power they have. Jules and Ophelia are strangers at the start of the series, but they bond very quickly over their shared desire for justice and one very simple fact: Ophelia believes Jules. More than that, she respects and admires Jules for everything she has been through and everything she is still going through.
They support each other, protect each other and believe each other.
The only thing that saddens me about this show is that it is exactly the kind of thing real-life sexual assault survivors should be watching. It is a show that recognizes their struggles, their fears and the challenges they face. It says, loudly, "I believe you." But in order to deliver that message, it first has to depict that struggle, show that trauma, and in doing so it must become something many survivors may not be able to stomach.
Sweet/Vicious is hilarious, colorful, disturbing, violent and honest. But even through all the absurdity it is important, and do we ever need more of that.