16 great shows: sweet/vicious (2016)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

16

Words can’t express how important this show is.

But I’ll try anyway.

For years we’ve seen one-off episodes in existing shows try to tackle rape (usually on college campuses). The Newsroom, The Good Wife, and Veronica Mars to name a few. Arguably, Veronica Mars came closest to actually being a show about rape. Veronica spends a significant portion of the series searching for her rapist and later takes on the mantle of finding the campus rapist at Hearst College.

But never (in my memory) has there been a show that is first and foremost about rape culture.

And that’s how I explain Sweet/Vicious to everyone I meet: It’s a one hour dramedy about rape culture.

Usually people can’t reconcile dramedy and rape culture together because half of dramedy is comedy.

But it needed to be half comedy. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise. There needed to be heart at the center of it. It needed to have light moments to let the air out.

I always cite the Defying Gravity scene as the scene that defined the tone of the series. Some spoilers ahead, but honestly it only spoils the secondary plot which is established halfway through the pilot.

Ophelia and Jules have just accidentally killed a guy. He’s in the trunk. Ophelia turns her music on. The first song that comes on is a rap song about a body in the trunk or some such thing that hits too close to home. She quickly skips to the next song, which is Defying Gravity.

Now, Ophelia is a hacker pot head with green hair. Besides the green, there shouldn’t be any reason to think that she’s a Broadway fan, let alone a Wicked fan. But she knows the song. And she starts to mumble along to it.

These two young women barely know each other. Jules straight up derides Ophelia. But in that moment they find themselves bonding over belting out the lyrics to Defying Gravity.

And there you have it. Jules is still a rape survivor that is not handling her trauma in a healthy way and Ophelia is still someone that just accidentally killed a guy to save Jules’ life. These are dark themes.

But they don’t have to be. Not every moment of the show. And that’s what saves the premise. That’s what draws you in.

Beyond that it’s such an important show for everyone to watch. Rape survivors, women in general, men, mothers, fathers, teachers, everyone. Because you see how flawed the system is and how it is not set up to protect women, but rather to protect men and their reputation.

You see how the system is set up to tell men that they can rape women and not suffer any consequences. Particularly if you’re important to the college or business or community.

You see how men can blur the lines, even in their own minds, about what constitutes rape.

You see how men don’t understand the damage they’ve done and continue to do.

You see how even women perpetuate this cycle by questioning a rape survivor’s morals or motivations.

I’m one of the few lucky women that has never been sexually assaulted. But I have been harassed. I’ve felt unsafe. This show is for all of us. It’s a show that transcends entertainment (of which there is plenty to be found here) and moves into a space that is so much more important and relevant than we were ready for.

And because of that it was canceled.

And now we’re getting a new season of The Challenge.

This was another panel I was at in Austin. (Check out the video here.) Like the Complex Women panel, it was all women (and even in the same venue) and it was emotional. It was powerful. The women that made this show are so inspiring, but it’s important to note that they were in over their heads. No one knew if it was going to work. No one knew if rape survivors would embrace the show or reject it.

But the creators did so well at developing this show and they were all the right people for the job because they treated the subject matter with the care and respect it deserved. The internet built a community up around this show and even as I type this I think of Eliza Bennett (Jules) up on that stage crying to the point of blubbering because she was so touched by how much the show meant to rape survivors. She recalled how many of her friends came forward and told her they’d been raped. And she wondered why they hadn’t told her before.

But she also knew why. We all know why. There’s so much shame and stigma surrounding rape survivors in our society. And even if you do come forward, it’s a gamble on whether people will believe you. And your own character comes under fire. It’s a lot to take on, especially for someone who has just gone through a major trauma.

But maybe this show will serve as a catalyst for these kinds of conversations. For chipping away at the reasons women don’t come forward (either privately or publicly).

I hope Sweet/Vicious finds a home somewhere else. It looks like it’s a possibility. MTV was not the right network or studio for the show, so this could be a blessing in disguise. During the Sweet/Vicious panel Jenn Kaytin Robinson (creator/EP) stated that there’s so many more stories she wanted to do. Different kinds of rape survivors, different flaws in the system, different stigmas.

And at the core of the show you have this beautiful female friendship. One that doesn’t subsist on weekly drama and fighting over boys. They’re partners and they help each other. They try to push each other to be better. We need more female friendships like this on television and in life.

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