Saturday, April 29, 2017

A few parting words for Sweet/Vicious

The cancellation of Bunheads in 2013 ruined my ability to get upset about shows being cancelled.  Before then, it felt like I was always plagued by the untimely ending of some beloved but underwatched show, from Pushing Daisies to Dollhouse to Ben & Kate.  But since the network formerly known as ABC Family snuffed out Amy Sherman-Palladino's ballet-infused small-town dramedy, there hasn't been a single show whose cancellation has stirred me in any way.  Emotional calcification plays a role in this, but part of it is also because the television landscape has changed so much in the last few years that not as many cult shows face the network guillotine.  Take something like The CW's excellent Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for example.  Just a few years ago, its abysmal ratings would've been a surefire cause for cancellation, but the network executives have even stated that the critical acclaim it received brought a level prestige to The CW that factored into its ability to live on.

So it came as a bit of a shocking blow last night when Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, creator of MTV's terrific Sweet/Vicious, tweeted to announce that the show had been cancelled after one season.  It had low-ratings, sure, but the last few years of being a TV fanatic have trained me to believe that quality would win out more often than not.  Discovering the news on my timeline, I felt a twinge of something I used to know all too well, that anger and sadness that comes from something you love being shuffled off this televisual coil long before its time.

Sweet/Vicious aimed to tell a story about sexual assault from a unique angle.  Spurred by the mishandling of her rape case in the prior semester, college student Jules (Eliza Bennett) used her self-defense training to try to fight back and help prevent further assaults among the student body.  Once stoner-hacker extraordinaire Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) finds out her secret, she's brought into the fold and the two of them become campus vigilantes.  It's a premise that sounds a little silly on paper, but the show itself was a stylish mashup of adored genre shows like Veronica Mars and Buffy.  Much like its progenitors, Sweet/Vicious was full of funny characters and sharp, witty dialogue.  But it also weaved in a very serious examination of rape culture, what it's like to never truly feel safe or to have to face your abuser on a daily basis.  And over the course of its 10-episode season, it builds a complex and beautiful relationship between Jules and Ophelia, always taking their emotions seriously and allowing them to come together through organic connection.

MTV is not generally a network that gets alot of critical eyes towards it, but Sweet/Vicious was a show that resonated with critics and those who read TV coverage voraciously.  In fact, I wouldn't have been encouraged to check it out if it wasn't for the consistently rapturous tweets I saw from people whose opinion I trust over the course of the show's first few weeks.  It's for that reason why the network deciding to cancel it seems like such a shortsighted choice.  Like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did for The CW, Sweet/Vicious brought a modicum of legitimacy to a network that's seen as containing frivolous programming.  It was a show that was full of potential, from a perspective of a growing audience as well as the possibility of it creatively flourishing, but now we'll never know what it was capable of.  I guess there's no justice in this world after all.

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