Sweet/Vicious is the best show you’ve never heard of. And the programming challenged monsters at MTV seem convinced that you never should. Fuck them. We probably didn’t deserve Sweet/Vicious, but oh my word, do we need it. But, a few months after it ended its first season run, in fact on the very day we were slated to watch the first batch of episodes MTV decided to pull the plug. So, in this installment of Required Viewing, we’re not only going to talk about Annemarie’s introduction to Jules and Ophelia, we’re going to talk about why some other network needs to give this show another life.
Annemarie, please kick us off with all of the usual questions: what did you know about Sweet/Vicious before our screening? How much do you love it? Why did I make you watch it? And special, for this installment, give us a brief overview of the series for anyone not in the know. K? Thx.
A: As is tradition, Brooke tries to tell me very little about the show, and I try to refrain from asking too many questions. I was told, “It’s about two college-age women who have, like normal lives during the day, but go vigilante on the asses of rapists by night. Also, there’s Buffy and Veronica Mars influences.” #sold
That summary could not be more perfect. Sweet/Vicious‘s Jules and Ophelia are the 2017 doppelgängers of both Buffy and VMars and so much of the aesthetic and references feel a part of the same universe, only updated for today. I also feel like Mindy Kaling’s show could also be thrown in as reference, as we see real-time texts and web searches happening on screen, exactly like they do on that show. Brooke, because we both un-ironically love this show and are perhaps 10-15ish years older than the teen demographic it portrays, does that mean that we’re young at heart, or that MTV just understands the need for teen programming that also caters to adult-ish ladies?
From that most basic summary, you can guess that this is a Sass the Patriarchy show, but what I loved most about it wasn’t the ass-kicking (deserved ass kickings are so satisfying to watch), but the portrayal of friendships. Old friends, new friends and how we grow and change with our friendships as we get older and sorta wiser. We’ll get back into that, but first, Brooke, please explain to our loyal readership exactly how the “They are us in college but much, much cooler ” thing works.
B: So here’s the thing. I think this “teen” show is so resonant even when we’re so far removed from campus life (it’s only six years for me, yo!) because the themes are exceedingly universal. Whether you’re at work, on public transportation, walking down the street or trying to have dinner or drinks with friends, as a woman, you’re always subject to the male gaze. We carry mace and safety cats and we know which routes have the most street lights or cops and demand our friends text us when they get to their cars and get home for very real reasons. On a college campus where people are away from home for the first time, often partying and experimenting, all of these things are magnified. And that’s what Sweet/Vicious taps into so powerfully — the female experience. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful (in both the friendships and the occasional horrors) and it is exceedingly relevant. It’s been said by many, many others, but we need Sweet/Vicious. I’m not a survivor, but this story makes me feel seen and heard as a woman, so I can only imagine how it must speak to people who have lived through scenarios like those Jules and Ophelia are fighting against. We’re definitely going to dig a lot deeper into this as we explore, so I won’t belabor the point here, but there’s a reason this show grabs you and doesn’t let go.
But on to that second question. If AM had been hesitant after my “More Riot Grrrl little sister of Buffy and VMars with a 2017 edge” pitch (I knew she wouldn’t) I was prepared with a second volley. Jules and Ophelia are the college versions of us … if we had been cooler than we were, or are. And I’m not just talking about ninja skills here. Now, AM was in marching band, not a sorority, but I imagine college Annemarie, blonde and ebullient, something like the carefree Jules we see in flashbacks, through slightly less skilled at beer pong and not as committed to costume selection for a theme party. Meanwhile, if I had the gumption to rock green locks, a vastly cooler apartment than any student I’ve ever met, and enough lawlessness to train up as a hacker, I might have been a passable Ofeefs — we share a disdain for the normal rules of cool, a love of pizza and a talent for semi-obscure references that people gloss over rather than asking for an explanation. So, basically, we like seeing tv-worthy approximations of our personalities on the screen, who doesn’t? Here’s where we should make the first of many thanks to Jennifer Kaytin Robinson for creating this world.
They seem like an unlikely duo our gals, but that’s why they are brilliantly matched, and their friendship is the more dynamic for it. Annemarie alluded to this, and I want to get there too. Let’s talk about how random happenstance threw Jules and Ophelia together, how they are a brilliant illustration of the instant bond we’re all lucky enough to experience very occasionally, and let’s unpack some of the other friendships as well. Talk to me about Jules and Kennedy, Ophelia and (my future husband) Harris, and how those pairs come together.
A: College Annemarie was (and I still am) a rules-following nerd, but I was on the drumline of the marching band. While marching band has a geeky bent, there’s a hierarchy there too, with drumline on the cooler side (the second most cool behind the dance line) and the clarinets on the uncool side (sorry, clarinets, but it’s true). That means while I never had a fake ID because I was too chicken, I was actually pretty good at beer pong and flip cup. Just wanted to clarify my level of cool in college, but the spirit of your imaginative College AM is pretty on target.
Since you always forget how old I am, I always forget how young you are, and yes, 6 years out of college isn’t that long. It’s enough time for perspective and wisdom, but definitely not too long ago to vividly remember that feeling of being unstuck from your childhood but not yet entrenched in adulting. Even a few more years out than Brooke, I distinctly recall the headiness and the at-times crushing responsibility. I felt well-prepared, but knew so many people who were simply not ready for the task and more still who were not really interested in going to school anymore. One of my favorite things about college was how many new people I was meeting. Some were awesome and continue to be in my life, some were just passing through. But it’s true (for me at least) that the connections you make and maintain at that point in your life tend to define your 20s and 30s.
All of that is to say that I think the show gives us lots of different types of friendships, the new (Jules & Ophelia, thrown together purely because of Ophelia’s determination and tech savvy), and the old (Jules & Kennedy, sorority BFFs and Ophelia & Harris, drinking buddies) and tests each of these relationships with the weight of Jules’ secret.
Now that the fluffy friendship stuff is well documented (and so critical to the heart of this show), let’s talk about the driving force. The R-word. Rape. It doesn’t always look like a masked man attacking a woman he doesn’t know. Sometimes it’s a friend, a date, a person you trust. Sweet/Vicious brilliantly flips this convention on its head when it has Jules and Ophelia dress in black, assaulting their victims using stealth and ninja action. The rapists (or, to be fair, accused rapists) are all dudes we all knew in college. Medium build, brown hair, likable. There’s nothing inherently threatening about them, except for a huge thing that they got away with a crime because no one would believe the victims.
Let’s unpack this a bit more, Brooke. As regrettable as it is, rape often is a heresy crime, meaning it’s often based upon the testimony of people rather than solid evidence. (Do you like how I invented a new legal term?) Jules and Ophelia have no solid proof, which is why they’re vigilantes vs lawyers in court. But is that fair? Do the circumstances justify their actions in a moral court, since they are certainly not justified in a legal court? Let’s get through this and then we can talk about boys and TV smoochies.
B: Girl, you know I am in full support of everything Jules and Ofeefs get up to. You know rape culture is one of my greatest hates in this world, and that extends beyond entertainment and media, it’s in our schools and society too. It’s in the sneering guidance councilor who asks, “But were you drunk?” Or observes, “I’ve never seen CEOs dressed like that” (looking at your character Keiko Agena, aka Lane Kim). It’s in “Boys will be boys” and “The way she was dressed she was asking for it.” It’s in the invasive nature of investigations and the fact that rapists are rarely punished in any way by colleges — because no one wants a record of being a school with a lot of rape. It’s in “Why should his whole life be ruined by one mistake?” What about her fucking life? I love that this show doesn’t flinch from any of these questions or implications. I love that it throws reasonable objections and doubt in our heroes’ paths. And I love that it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the shenanigans that often surround these situations.
Sweet/Vicious largely succeeds on the chemistry between its cast, the clever dialogue and a premise that makes you stand up and say “YAS.” But there’s some pretty masterful plotting and pacing in play here. From their first encounter, Jules and Ophelia are not innocents, and those early actions create a series of mild catastrophes for them to contend with. My favorite of these involves Harris getting to close to the truth and our gals coming up with an on-the-fly plan to distract everyone during a lockdown on campus — hint: they may have brought about the whole situation.
Speaking of: AM, I want to hear your favorite misadventure and your favorite takedown — let’s leave the major one out of this evaluation though, to leave some suspense for our faithful readers who are going to run out and watch this show on our suggestion.
A: Per your analysis of rape culture and the way Sweet/Vicious owns, of course I say, “YAS QUEEN.” The one other thing I’ll throw in there, because it hasn’t been said, but ladies (and gents), please don’t leave your friends at a party. Become a scary massive group who cannot be dissolved by outsiders. More seriously, also, watch your drinks, follow your intuition and don’t hesitate to phone a friend, the cops, your parents, a rape hotline, etc. This is how we deal with rape culture until we can figure out as a civilized society how to just not rape anyone.
Moving on to fun show things! My favorite sequence is actually in the pilot, when Ophelia saves Jules and also accidentally does a thing that sets in motion the entire show. Neither woman knows what to do at all with this situation and it’s hysterical and tragic at the same time. I also dearly love Ophelia getting toasted and declaring her love for Evan. I do so love a good reveal whilst intoxicated.
Brooke, favorite misadventure or set piece, go!
B: I do dearly love all of the record store shenanigans I alluded to earlier, but I think my favorite misadventure comes into play when Ophelia goes undercover at the WORST sorority during Hell Week and hilarity ensues. Fi-Fi is an unholy evil twin, but it is satisfying to get a glimpse at the life Ofeefs might have led were she not such a delightful iconoclast. As set pieces go, I was pretty wowed by a complex takedown the girls execute at an under-construction Hall on campus. I’ll spare everyone the details here, but just know that it was really quite something.
At this point, I think we’re both walking the line of wanting to say all the things about Sweet/Vicious and abstaining from saying too much (not typically a concern), because we desperately want people to watch this show and enjoy it organically. Before we sign off, however, I think we should both make a case for why someone out there (Netflix, Hulu, FX, Showtime — any solid network, really) needs to give this show another life.
I’ll go first. We just spent more than 2,000 words talking about how great the first 10 hours of Sweet/Vicious are. The first time I watched this series I did so in less than 24 hours. After, I moved it to the top of the Required Viewing list because I couldn’t wait for AM to see it. We watched the first five hours in one session. And when it was over, AM insisted we push back her next pick by a week and finish the series post haste. This unlikely gem (who knew MTV could give us such a gift?) is astonishing. Shows like this don’t come along very often — and I say this in the era of peak television, a time when shows like Fargo are overlooked. I didn’t know how badly I needed Sweet/Vicious, and now I don’t know how I would ever get over not seeing the next chapter in this story.
A: I can’t even imagine the amounts of television I’ve missed because I fast-forward through commercials. I watch MTV on the regular and had heard of this show, but didn’t give it a chance. And that was a mistake. We’ve talked at length about how much it reminds us of beloved cult favorites Buffy and Veronica Mars, and that’s the main reason to watch it. I’m actually ok with no more episodes, if only because I’m a firm believer that TV shows in the U.S. drag on for many, many seasons beyond what they should. There’s opportunity for great, long-form storytelling, but it’s also a dangerous greed trap that makes good shows bad. Would I love to see the next chapter? Of course, but I can live with what I saw as a brief slice of a world (pizza pun intended) that I’ve never seen before. This is a lesson to myself as much as anyone else: Try out the pilot, and maybe an episode or two more of a show you know nothing about.
B: So what you’re saying there is: “Always listen to Brooke.” I agree.
We shift back to AM’s next pick in our endless List, and it’s one that’s both familiar and unfamiliar to fans of Center Stage. That’s right, it’s sequel time!