This MTV Show Tackles Sexual Assualt In A Totally New Way

Photo: Courtesy of MTV.
The pilot of Sweet/Vicious, a new series premiering on MTV November 15, features a college girl sneaking into a guy's room. She's there for revenge, but not for her — for the girl whose picture she calls up on her phone, demanding he admit what he did to her. Once he confesses, she leaves him with a leg wound, and a warning that if he ever assaults another girl, she'll be back. With her message relayed she heads back home — to her sorority house. We spoke with the creator of the new series, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, about her love of Quentin Tarantino films, creating shows that resonate with young women, and why it's so important to be talking about the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Note: This interview contains spoilers for the pilot episode of Sweet/Vicious.
What inspired you to create Sweet/Vicious?
"When I sat down to write this show two years ago, I really took stock of what I want to see on TV — what do I feel is missing? It's strong female characters who are nuanced, who could be broken and powerful at the same time. I really wanted to make something for younger women, because I think that millennial women, right now, are depicted in a way that can be a little bit whiney. They're not the go-getters and strong women I knew in my life. I really wanted to find something that could showcase that, and that could also be very inclusive, and that could show young women that being mean isn't cool. "All those things are very important to me, and when I sat down to create the characters, I found Jules (Eliza Bennett) and I found Ophelia (Taylor Dearden). The story of sexual assault came through wanting to tell a new, updated superhero story that could also be grounded by something that is very serious and a topic that I feel really needs to be out there more. It needs to be looked at as something that is important and not something that is taboo."
You mentioned wanting to work against the current depiction of millennial women in media, but did any older TV shows or movies influence the show?
"For sure. Kill Bill is a big influence, all the Tarantino movies, because that tone is something that I really love. That's something that's hopefully infused in the show. Thelma and Louise was a huge one for me, and I watched that a bunch while I was writing. Even movies like Reality Bites, that tells the story of young people trying to figure out what they're doing in their early 20s."

In which of life's darkest moments would you find humor?

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
I was able to see the pilot at New York Comic-Con, and it obviously deals with heavy subject matter, but there are some really funny moments. How did you find that balance?
"I think it's just digging in and thinking, 'What is funny in life?' In which of life's darkest moments would you find humor? That's where, I think, the humor comes from. I always want it to feel grounded, not slapstick. I don't want it to feel like a sitcom because it's not. Where we are in the series, we are dealing with the assault, we are talking about it, and there's nothing funny about it. We take it very seriously. It's just being able to balance dark and light."
In the pilot alone, you touch on a few stories of sexual assault on campus. What kind of research did you do as far as reading the news, or listening to young women's accounts?
"I did a ton of research. The whole writing team, the cast, some of the crew, we all did a lot of research. I had, it's very sad, I had three new articles on my desk every morning to read. And that's terrible. We have to do something about this. It's crazy that new stories are being written every single day, multiple times a day, about this epidemic. Because it's not being heard. It's not being given the amount of attention it needs from the correct people. From Washington, from the schools, from the people who can actually enact change. We walked to survivors, we talked to title IX officers, we read articles, listened to podcasts, dug everything out of the internet that we could. There was a Reddit AMA that was very controversial, [featuring] people who had committed sexual assault who were speaking out, and we read that to make sure we read every single side of this issue. It was very important to us to tell the story correctly and do our research."
Obviously, female friendship is very strong theme of the show, but a potential love interest is introduced in the pilot. Will the show have a romantic subplot?
"Yes. In episode 3 we really dig into the Tyler-Jules relationship and at the end of it, she realizes it's not his dead brother that's keeping her at bay and making her not want to go forward with the relationship. It's the fact that she was assaulted and she doesn't know how to do that again. She's scared, she's not comfortable, and she doesn't know how to be in a relationship. And there's a very sweet moment when she realizes it is something she wants but she needs to take it slow. And he completely accepts that. It's a very sweet romance that they share throughout the season, but it always has this undertone of her keeping this terrible secret, 'I killed your brother.' We had a lot of fun writing that story because we feel it was able to tackle so many things at once, that part of being a survivor. It's how do you have relationships, how do you move forward. That story is just as important as the story of trauma itself."
What has been your favorite part of writing and creating this show?
"Being able to create this story, give a voice to young women, especially today, especially in the time we're now living in, under this new presidency. I'm so excited to tell stories about young women that are empowering, that show women that you have a voice, and you can use that voice. You don't have to be apologetic about it."

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