Sweet/Vicious: A Socially Relvant Crime Fan’s Cocktail

If I told you that there was a new crime show that was both funny and socially relevant and successfully incorporated elements of other acclaimed shows while still treating its subject matter with utmost respect, what network would you guess it was on? It would have to be something like a Netflix Original series right? WRONG! HBO? NOPE! AMC or FX? Uh-uh. Believe it or not, the network in question is MTV.

The show is called Sweet/Vicious, and it's a cleverly blended cocktail of Veronica Mars and Arrow with a hint of Breaking Bad.

What makes Sweet/Vicious so relevant is the subject matter it has decided to tackle: the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses. It does this by transforming a rape survivor into a hunter and punisher of her college's sexual predators. Her name is Jules, and when we first meet her in Sweet/Vicious's pilot episode, she's delivering a message about consent to one her college's fraternity members. Wearing a homemade costume of a black hoodie with a balaclava-style mask and voice changer, she emphasizes the importance of her message by stabbing the frat brother in the leg with a knife.

Jules uses the martial arts training she underwent after her attack to help her create a dual life as a college student and vigilante. In the pilot episode, she tells her fellow student Ophelia that people on their campus, Darlington College, are doing all kinds of horrible things and just getting away with them—but she's hoping to make things right. This prompts Ophelia to call her Batman.

Everyone who's seen the CW's Arrow knows it's very much a Batman show in everything but name. That sort of heightened reality that's a part of Arrow and shows like Netflix's adaptation of Daredevil is also part of Sweet Vicious's DNA. Set at the fictional college of Darlington, our heroines use Ophelia’s computer hacking skills to uncover and track campus predators and their martial arts skills to fight them.

Ophelia comes into Jules's orbit early on in the pilot episode when she runs down an alley to avoid campus security, who are after her for pot possession, and comes across Jules in full on vigilante mode beating down a date rapist. This resonates with her. She feels a sense of duty and calling and proceeds to use her skills as a computer hacker to uncover Jules's identity—by the third episode, a partnership is formed.

Ophelia’s character is what draws a lot of the Veronica Mars comparisons. She is the perfect mix of Veronica's sarcasm and pop culture references, her computer hacker friend Mac, and the super smart pot dealer, Ben, from Don Winslow's excellent crime novels Savages and The Kings of Cool.

Sweet Vicious also shares Veronica Mars’s ability to expertly balance the comedic and dramatic tones. Humor comes naturally in the show, whether it's Ophelia's snarky remarks, the juxtaposition of Jules double life as sweet and innocent sorority sister and predator punisher, or the exasperated musings of Ophelia's best friend, Harris. And thankfully, that humor doesn’t come at the expense of the show’s more dramatic scenes.

My heart breaks every time I see the terror and anxiety Jules feels when she's forced to be around the guy who raped her. Unfortunately, he's the boyfriend of Jules's best friend Kennedy, who Jules has not confided in about the attack. The show also portrays a sense of the shame, despair, and fear rape survivors feel in the aftermath of their attacks. It's clear the cast and crew have done their homework and talked to survivors. In the third episode, there’s an extremely powerful scene where we see a rape survivor deal with the immediate aftermath of her attack and the painful days after.

In the first three episodes, Jules and Ophelia get into all kinds of darkly comic jams because of their dual lives, and we see them deal with the consequences of a life of violence. These elements were, of course, hallmarks of the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad.

See also: Breaking Bad Rewatch 1.01: “Pilot”

In the first episode, Ophelia is forced to save Jules’s life by killing a rapist who has knocked her unconscious. While that of leads to some humorous moments of her literally getting sick with worry, she's haunted by what she did and sees the bloodied face of the man she killed at several different times. Also, when the girls have to get Ophelia's car—which still had the body of the man she killed in the trunk—out of a police impound and dispose of it, I was very much reminded of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman's misadventures. The show even name checks Breaking Bad when Ophelia suggests they solve their dead body problem by using acid.

It's interesting to note, too, that Taylor Dearden—who plays Ophelia—is the daughter of Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston. She definitely has her father's gift for drama and comedy and the ability to quickly move between them.

So yes, if Sweet/Vicious's first three episodes are any indication, my new favorite crime show is on MTV. In these initial episodes, creator/showrunner Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, her production staff, and the show's cast create a fun origin story for a couple of fascinating characters that expertly employ elements of other great crime shows. I can't wait to see what happens next.

I'll check back in at the end of the season to let you know if the rest of the episodes lived up to the hype of the first three.


Dave Richards covers all things Marvel Comics for the Eisner Award-winning website Comic Book Resources and his book reviews and other musings can be found at his blog Pop Culture Vulture.


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