uncle boonmee who can recall his past lives (apichatpong weerasethakul, 2010)
jesse james (henry king, 1939)

the fifth karen sisco award: sweet/vicious

[The introduction is largely copied from previous years.]

In 2010, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.

When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.

Previous winners were Terriers (2010), Lights Out (2011), Luck (2012), and after a break of a few years, Agent Carter (2016).

This year's winner actually started in November of 2016, but it finished in January of 2017, so I think it counts. I'm talking about Sweet/Vicious, about which I wrote:

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....

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.

It got terrible ratings, and was cancelled by MTV (which is where it aired). So one season is all we'll get. And Sweet/Vicious was just finding its voice. The great Mo Ryan had a lot to say about the cancellation, and I'm going to quote her a bit here.

Sweet/Vicious” set itself apart in a very crowded TV landscape, and though it was barely promoted, it found a small but loyal audience. I grind my teeth at the thought of what kind of impression it could have made, and what kind of audience could have been built up, had MTV allocated even a little more money and promotional resources to it.

One of the greatest joys of this job is coming across something around the margins that does something cool, unique, or entertaining. When a show you’ve never heard of does all of those things, it’s like getting a jolt of joy straight to the nervous system. You start watching a pilot, and a delightful feeling creeps over you: “Oh, this is good! Who made this? What is this? I want more!” 

“Sweet/Vicious” was one of those shows. It wasn’t just smart, funny and able to craft engaging stories on a very low budget. It wasn’t just an excellent vehicle for its talented stars, Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden. It was about something....

And, perhaps to the point of the Karen Sisco Award:

Sweet/Vicious,” handled in the right way, could have become a steady performer for the network, not to mention a media darling.... 

Regardless of whether you agree about the flood of questionable renewals, the fact is, it’s all too easy for shows, new or old, to get lost in the shuffle. But some shows that already made their mark deserve more life. Especially if they were just getting started. 

“Sweet/Vicious” was a gem. Some savvy executive should recognize that, and do something sweet — and smart.

Like many of the previous winners of this award, Sweet/Vicious was barely recognized during its run. Terriers still has fans, and it turns up on streaming services on occasion, and while Lights Out remains little-known, star Holt McCallany is on people's minds after his co-starring role in Mindhunter. And, of course, Peggy Carter and Hayley Atwell still make cameo appearances in the Marvel world.

But I don't think Sweet/Vicious will be remembered, even as much as something like Lights Out. And that is especially sad because, as much as anything, Sweet/Vicious was a victim of bad timing. If it started in November of this year, it would be talked about all over social media. There would be arguments about whether its approach to vigilante justice was the right message for the #MeToo movement. But it would not be ignored. And I wouldn't be writing about it now as the winner of an award no one wants: a good show that was cancelled too soon.

The idea behind the Karen Sisco Award is to draw attention to these shows, so that you'll know they are worthy if you come across them down the road on streaming services.

Again, the winners:

  • 2010: Terriers
  • 2011: Lights Out
  • 2012: Luck
  • 2016: Agent Carter
  • 2017: Sweet/Vicious

Here are a few clips from Sweet/Vicious. Trigger warnings may apply.