This story has been updated below.
It’s no secret that many college campuses have a huge sexual assault problem. Sadly, it appears cases like Brock Turner, the convicted rapist from Stanford University who only got three months in jail, are the exception — only in that he got any punishment at all.
While the real world lags behind, at least some fictional college students are getting justice. MTV’s brilliant series Sweet/Vicious follows two students at the fictional Darlington University, a prestigious college, who take the sexual assault problem into their own hands — and fists.
The show tells the story of Jules (Eliza Bennett), a sorority sister who has been having trouble with academics for the past year. The reason? Her best friend’s boyfriend raped her the previous summer. To help cope, Jules has taken advantage of a women’s restroom wall where female students write the names of their rapists — to help her find her next quarry.
Much like Showtime’s Dexter, featuring a serial killer who only kills other murderers, Jules tracks down rapists and beats the utter shit out of them. Unlike Dexter, however, any laughs in Sweet/Vicious are intentional — the pitch-dark comedy cuts the violence with witty dialogue that never gets in the way of the seriousness of the subject.
In the first episode, the campus pot dealer, Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) stumbles on one such beating, and it gives her a purpose in life. Jules and Ophelia join forces and become an unstoppable vigilante team.
One of the most refreshing things about Sweet/Vicious is how it treats sexual assault. While the show can be graphic — a number of episodes begin with content warnings for sexual assault — it’s never exploitative. Any assaults shown on camera are disturbing to watch, never titillating.
Likewise, with Jules, we see what the aftermath of sexual assault is like. We watch as she navigates her first romantic relationship after the assault, how her PTSD intersects with her sexuality. We watch her struggle with relationships of friends she feels she can’t tell, because, after all — not only is her rapist well-liked, he’s a big man on campus, being one of the top sports stars of the entire school. Similarly, her relationship with Ophelia can be difficult — while Ophelia’s the one person who knows about Jules’ assault, she’s also relatively sheltered and hasn’t experienced any profound trauma in her life.
The show was created by writer/actress Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, who prior to Sweet/Vicious had only appeared in two low-budget films, The Samurai of Strongsville, Ohio and Miriam. Robinson seemingly came out of nowhere, which makes the profound quality of Sweet/Vicious all the more amazing — especially because viewers get the impression that there was very little in the way of compromise. The show has a very clear statement of intent, and refuses to pull any punches, whether it’s fighting the brutal way rape victims are treated by law enforcement or the way college sports departments protect their own.
The show has received a rare 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but unfortunately it was MTV’s lowest-rated series. A decision on whether or not it will be renewed has yet to be made — but all is not lost. In an interview with Deadline, Chris McCarthy, president of MTV, said, “We love the characters and how the show relates to modern feminism. Its numbers were disappointing but the sentiment for the show has been nothing but fantastic.”
Fans and critics have clamored for a renewal. #RenewSweetVicious is a popular tag on Twitter, and there have been a number of articles encouraging MTV to keep the series going. Should the show be renewed, Robinson says we will see storylines involving LGBTQ assault, male assault victims and survivors, and racial issues.
It’s not unheard of for such a low-rated show to be renewed. Similarly, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has seen two renewals so far, despite being its network’s lowest-rated show, based on its critical reception. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was also buoyed by its success on Netflix worldwide; Sweet/Vicious hasn’t hit any of the standard streaming clients yet. If you want to see Sweet/Vicious, you can watch the entire series on MTV’s website (with a cable subscription), or buy the series from iTunes, Amazon, YouTube or Google Play — but there’s no legal way to see the series for free if you’ve cut the cord.
Here’s hoping that MTV does the right thing and renews one of the most important shows on television — or if they drop the ball, that Netflix or Hulu picks it up and runs with it. Sweet/Vicious is not just good television — it’s a must-see for anyone who cares about ending sexual assault.
UPDATE, April 30: MTV has officially cancelled Sweet/Vicious, as MTV is moving back to unscripted television. In a statement, series creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson said they would be seeking a new home for the show.
— Jenn Kaytin Robinson (@JennKaytin) April 28, 2017
Here’s hoping they find one. Someone get Netflix and Hulu on the line!