Like many people, the saturated market of superhero franchises on TV and movies has all but turned me off of the genre. In particular, I object to the way that in these worlds superheroes are allowed to subvert criminal justice systems–as broken as they are–to commit vigilante violence. I’m no expert but I think in the future there will be a number of American Studies dissertations that address the connection between the superhero craze and the Black Lives Matter Movement. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at the same time people of color are protesting racial bias in policing there’s a proliferation of white superheroes policing the streets for their own ends in pop culture.
This long preamble brings me to the new unfortunately-named MTV show Sweet/Vicious. Mild spoilers to follow.
It’s the spiritual successor to Veronica Mars (and maybe Jessica Jones? I don’t know; I didn’t finish it), with fight scenes reminiscent of Kick-Ass. It features two college students who enact vigilante violence against men who have committed sexual assault on their campus. Responding to a school and police system that has failed to hold these men accountable for their actions, our protagonists Jules and Ophelia take matters into their own hands.
It’s a delightful blend of college drama and superhero show: Greek parties, electronically tracking down predators, weed dealing, training montages. The two leads have a nice rapport. Jules, the original vigilante, is a blonde sorority girl who was sexually assaulted.
She hides this from her sorority sisters, in large part because her attacker is her best friend’s boyfriend. Like many women who have experienced sexual assault, Jules has to interact with him on a regular basis. Watching those scenes really reinforces the way the assault affects and motivates her. She is unable to confront him or her friends about it, so beating up other attackers is a way to address it. In this way, the show does better than most at both dealing with the emotional fallout of rape, and providing believable motivations for vigilantism.
Jules: I don’t sleep, and when I do, I have horrible nightmares. And I can barely be touched without jumping out of my skin, and the only time I feel like myself is when i’m wearing that black suit. You know, I can barely remember the girl I was before I got raped, and I just know that I miss her.
Ophelia (green hair) is a hacker and weed dealer with rich parents and little scholastic interest. Her motivations are less personal but no less compelling. She also gets to be the snarky banter-y one. Her blend of toughness and vulnerability is different than Jules’, but I am just thrilled that we can have two complex female characters like this on TV.
So far only 5 episodes have aired, and there are a lot of places this show can go. I’m most interested in Jules’ relationship with her best friend Kennedy, who has the rapist boyfriend. The assault is a wedge between them, one that Kennedy can perceive but doesn’t understand.
The various romantic couplings are interesting but not totally compelling for me yet; let’s see where they go. They all have the inevitable I-can’t-tell-my-partner-what-I’m-doing drama, a hallmark of all superhero shows that gets old after a while. The strong female friendship between Jules and Ophelia is blossoming but new. I foresee further bumps in the road as their mission continues.
I’m willing to brave the horrible streaming platform that is MTV.com to see this season through.