Most millennials would scoff at the idea of anything on MTV being considered culturally significant viewing in 2017. You know a channel is in trouble when the last credible person associated with them is currently a host on the Today Show. A new, relevant voice has broken through the pack of tragically entertaining reality Teen Moms and misogynistic hip-hop videos to put her stamp on this generation.
Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s show, Sweet/Vicious, is not as much a stamp as it is a Band-Aide over the gushing wound of sexual assault so many young people struggle to mend. Her show grabs our human nature with the quivering hands of a preyed upon womankind and shoves it in our faces, without apology. Women are raped, and live in fear of being raped, while boys are taught to be aggressive and take what they want.
The character of Jules Thomas, played by Eliza Bennett, was a college girl going about her ultra-ordinary academic career when she was raped by her best-friend’s boyfriend, Nate. The portrayal of the rape by itself should be enough to earn the show an Emmy. This was NOT a bloody, brutal, clothes ripping assault perpetrated by a demented stranger. It did not occur in a proverbial dark alley, near campus housing. Dark alleys, in fact, are empowering in this show. No, the crime took place in what she thought was a safe place, committed by a person she thought would not hurt her.
Once it was finished, the victim (Jules) was in handcuffs, not her attacker; social and societal handcuffs latched tightly by her own thoughts. He was well known on campus, so who would believe her? Was it her fault? Would her best-friend, Kennedy, blame her, or even worse, call her a liar? Staying silent was only slightly less painful than coming forward; however, this calculus would soon shift. In the meantime, Jules played the part of normal college girl. The resentment and rage was overwhelming. If society was forcing her to cover this up, to mask her pain, then why not don a literal mask?
Jules puts on a mask, alters her voice (Batman style) and begins to violently exact her revenge against those accused of sexual assault on Darlington’s campus. Her path overlaps with another troubled student running from her own oppression, this time in the form of law enforcement. In the aforementioned dark alley, the green smoking, green-haired tech-guru, Ophelia Mayer, meets the masked vigilante in the middle of a take-down. What follows is an exploration of bottomless pain and soul-healing friendship. Two young women help each other decide where to land their most stinging blows against their demons. Is violence the answer? Can the system support them, or are they better to walk the line between vigilantism and due-process?
The psychological dialogue displayed in this show is groundbreaking. Women are hurt and feel the same primal need for revenge as men do, with one caveat: men are taught striking back is only natural when warranted and girls are taught to be “ladies” and turn the other cheek. It must be said, violence cannot be the answer to cultural or interpersonal transgressions, but for many, the legal-system does not seem to be an effective solution, either. The area in between is where Robinson goes to work. This show is not merely a lifeline for a dying cable network, it is cultural battle-cry which should carry past internal politics at MTV and be received by the youngest ears embarking on their college experiences in a dynamically complicated world. Sweet/Vicious must be renewed immediately.