Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was an actress trying to find her way into the business. Her IMDB page lists two acting appearances, a short in 2007 and a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t feature in 2010. In 2014, Robinson, then 26, sold the script for what became Sweet/Vicious. In this world where showrunners reign supreme, it’s interesting to note that Robinson, who created the show and wrote four of the ten episodes, but who had mostly uncredited work behind the scenes, is generally considered the face of the show. Sweet/Vicious is hers.
The series looks cheap. One of the leads, Eliza Bennett, seems to be known a bit in England, but she hadn’t done a whole lot for American audiences. Her co-star, Taylor Dearden, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (she shares this oversight with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson). She was in a few shorts, and one web series (also shorts). Her primary claim to fame seems to be that she is Bryan Cranston’s daughter. The show takes place at a fictional college, so most of the main characters are in their early-20s ... the actors are relatively close to the ages they play, so the fact that I didn’t recognize a single one of them may just mean I’m 63 years old. The point is, Sweet/Vicious is a first-time series by a writer in her late-20s, that shows on MTV, with no “stars” in the cast. You are forgiven if you’ve never heard of it.
Sweet/Vicious is easy to summarize, for anyone who is thinking of checking it out. The problem is, the summary tells you nothing about the execution. (This can be said of many works, of course.) I haven’t recommended it to anyone, even though it just finished its first season, if for no other reason than it is built around the kinds of triggers that many people will understandably avoid. For the set-up of Sweet/Vicious is that a rape survivor and her friend become vigilantes, fighting against those who assault women.
And it’s not always a serious drama.
I can not speak for survivors. I can say that Robinson is very careful about the series, that she consciously set out to create a show about women who are broken but also powerful. While the show has its lighter moments, those never come when the subject is assault.
This all sounds cheesy, if not offensive. It is not the latter (it is sometimes cheesy). Two regular young women become ninja vigilantes on an MTV show ... does anyone hear that and think, oh, I have to watch that?
And not everything works. Some episodes are better than others. Some character arcs are more compelling than others. But the performances of these unknown-to-me actors are always on target. And gradually, the show grows on you, the characters grow on you, and you start looking forward to each week’s episode, even though you still have a hard time explaining the show, and so you don’t recommend it.
So this: Sweet/Vicious is an audacious show about a topic that is hidden far too often. It is never exploitative. And while it always returns to the story of survivors, it isn’t particularly preachy.
What effect does it have on the audience? It’s just one person, but I found this anonymous post from a survivor compelling:
The first episode took me close to 4 hours to watch. The second episode, the third… 2 hours. The fourth and the fifth… just an hour and a half. The sixth – I couldn’t finish. The sixth I stopped after Jules confronted her rapist. And I broke down in a puddle of tears – wanting to hug her and hold her and tell her I understood. That I was there for her.
The same way I wanted someone to be there for me....
Sweet/Vicious is one of the most important shows on television nowadays. It’s hard to watch, sure. But it’s those moments – those few hours a week where I watch someone take their life back, that make me feel less alone. That make me feel as if it’s okay to move forward and heal.
Sweet/Vicious helps me move towards healing. There is no time frame on that. It’s done in moments.
And every week – I have another moment that moves me closer to little parts of me feeling again.
Sweet/Vicious is apparently getting terrible ratings, the worst of any scripted MTV shows. It does do very well in other forms of viewing, like streaming or On Demand. As of this writing, it has not been renewed. Robinson says she has ideas about the next two seasons, if there are more seasons.
And a very intense scene where Jules confronts her attacker: