Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s original vision for her new MTV show Sweet/Vicious comes from a question: “What if Tarantino wrote Girls?” From this point she succeeds greatly in creating a world where a young sexual assault survivor (Jules) has all the means to help enact revenge on the men who put others in situations like the one that she herself suffered. The female friendships and uncomfortable moments that we associate with a show like Girls are thrust into an atmosphere where choreographed fight sequences and a tiny bit of gore set the stage, allowing the show to take on a heavy and important topic amidst the sometimes-campy, yet enjoyable, tone that we have come to expect from MTV scripted programming.
The pilot episode of the series opens on a masked figure sneaking into a fraternity house. The flash of headlights of a passing car reveal the eyes of a young female, who proceeds to scale the outside of the building to enter through the bedroom window of her victim. Using a voice changer, she begins to slowly torture him while presenting a photo of the girl that he raped, questioning his understanding of the word consent, and forcing him to admit his wrongful transgressions. She then leaves him with one final gift: a swift stab to the leg that leaves him writhing on the floor. She pulls off her mask outside the house to reveal that she is our protagonist, Jules (Eliza Bennett), the kind of bubblegum-pink sorority girl that is just stereotypical enough on the surface to make our eventual journey into the depths of her character that much more delightful.
When we meet her eventual sidekick Ophelia (Taylor Dearden), it’s a much different scene. We find her waking up in bed with a guy, who she proceeds to ignore, as she goes about her normal routine. The fact that the first step of this process involves putting on a record, coupled with her bright blue-green hair, not only presents her as an effortless level of cool, but also Jules’ polar opposite.
Our dynamic duo meets for the first time under confusing circumstances for Ophelia, who stumbles upon one of Jules’ undercover missions while running from a campus police officer who has spotted her smoking a joint. In a twisted take on a “Cinderella” moment, Ophelia gives a masked Jules the chance to take off, before the campus cop stumbles upon the scene, which she takes. Leaving behind her sorority necklace that has been ripped from her neck during the struggle.
From there, the series takes off. Giving us the promised level of female friendship and badass missions, as well as a take on the problematic institutions in place for dealing with sexual assaults on campuses (especially considering the fact that college aged females are significantly more likely to be assaulted than any other age demographic). But ultimately, the show is a love story between Jules and Ophelia, who are able to use each other to find their way during a tumultuous time period in their lives. For Jules, the friendship allows her to finally speak her truth by giving her someone who will be by her side without judgment (aside from the occasional joke at her expense). On the other hand, for Ophelia, a strong female friendship gives her a sense of belonging in a world that she has worked so diligently to stay on the fringes of. By becoming a crusader for women, Ophelia finds a cause to believe in, and by the time that Jules confides in her about her own rape, she is prepared to give everything to get her justice.
The show successfully parallels some of the injustices that we’ve begun to see daily in our current political climate. Jules’ rapist, Nate, is a star athlete and uses his position on the football team as leverage in the assault case against him. His story runs a similar path as those in the news such as Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who suffered minimal punishment for his egregious rape of a fellow student. As well as a new lawsuit against Baylor University, which alleges that football players at the college committed 52 rapes in four years. Additionally, the video footage that Jules and Ophelia eventually use to expose Nate, mirrors recordings that revealed Donald Trump’s horrifying comments about how he views women. They were comments that sent millions to the streets to protest out of fear for women’s basic human rights under his presidency, just as the students of fictional university, Darlington, came out in droves online to ask the Sweet/Vicious team for help getting justice in their sexual assaults.
In the end, Sweet/Vicious is the kind of program that is crucial to have on our airwaves during the current era. But more importantly, it’s the kind of show that will hopefully incite a much-needed ripple effect that will give us more stories for young adults about strong women facing real issues, as Jules, Ophelia, and the women of Darlington University do.