MTV is bringing to light a new hour-long comedy/drama called Sweet/Vicious that's going to break stereotypes about the rape culture, while still making you laugh.
It's something really special, and I had the opportunity to chat with Eliza Bennett, who stars as half of a vigilante duo standing up for sexually assaulted women who can't do it for themselves, while still managing life at university. She talked about her role and what the series is hoping to achieve in its first season.
Please enjoy excerpts from our interview below, and tune in for the series premiere on MTV tonight at 10/9c after the premiere of Teen Wolf Season 6.
Can you tell us a little bit about the show and about your character, Jules?
Yes. The show is Sweet/Vicious ands it centers around these two girls, Jules and Ophelia who are this unlikely, odd couple. I play Jules, who is a sorority girl by day, a university student, and she moonlights as a vigilante avenging sexual assault victims on campus.
Her life gets thrown together with Ophelia's and Ophelia kind of becomes obsessed with finding out about Jules and becoming a part of this vigilante team.
I know this is not a superhero show, but the show is super and the characters are heroes. What's interesting is that traditionally when you talk about superheroes and females, it's all about their sexuality, but Sweet/Vicious is a completely different take on that.
Yes, absolutely. It's definitely trying to break stereotypes in that sense. They are not superheroes in that they have any supernatural powers. But it's in the Kick-Ass aspect that these are self-made heroes.
It should feel like Jules has kind of scrambled together to make this outfit to keep her identity hidden, and yeah, it's got a very female empowered feminist feel to it, the show does. And Jules is not polished, wearing this perfect superhero costume that shows her curves. It's in no way that show.
She's fighting on behalf of getting rid of this rape culture and the look on women and it's the injustice she's struggling with. When you get to read a script like that...I hadn't read anything like that or watched anything like that as a young woman before, so I held onto this one with two hands and was lucky enough that I got cast.
But, yes, it's definitely trying to smash through those stereotypes that if a woman is a superhero she should look a certain way. That is not Jules and Ophelia.
There hasn't been a great track record of sexual assault, of victims or rape culture in general. Sometimes it's used just to push story forward, to push story forward. Women get relegated to the victim. How do you think Sweet/Vicious will help change the discussion and the stereotype of that type of storyline?
Rape has not been dealt with very much on any show, and sometimes it's just a scene that's there and it's never spoken about again. Sweet/Vicious deals with this issue head on. It leans heavily into the topic, but I think in no way is it exploitative of that topic.
Jules is a victim of sexual assault, but she's also a survivor of sexual assault, and I think Jennifer [Kaytin Robinson], our creator, has done a great job of creating these women that are so well rounded and all things that women are now. Jules is broken and vulnerable, but oh my goodness is she strong, and feisty and a fighter for justice.
She is all those things, as women are all those things, but I think we can get pigeonholed into the rape victim looking a certain way. We wanted to make a show that...there are so many sexual assault survivors out there, and we wanted to make a show where they can watch this and feel more heard and not feel exploited and feel that the topic is becoming less taboo.
When I first read the script, I was blown away by how Jennifer, our creator, treads that line so carefully and also is making a show that doesn't feel like medicine, is watchable and has lightness and dark in equal measure.
I've never seen a show like that before, and I don't think it's been done before. I'm excited, because as a woman I would want to watch this show growing up, I feel that I would feel more heard. We're definitely doing something new, but it's about time.
What about the male characters? Obviously there will be friends, but then there will be the others Jules and Ophelia are taking care of with their vigilantism. What will their relationships be like, and will there be any room for redemption for the characters they're fighting against?
That's a very good question. Obviously, for the promotion for the show, we're focusing on the vigilante aspect of Jules' and Ophelia's lives, but the show will in no way be male bashing, as we have amazing men on our show.
We have Tyler and Harris who plays Ophelia's best friend. They are feminists in their own right, and it was really important for us to have male characters – as all of us on the show do in real life – we have amazing men on the show in our lives and we wanted that to be reflective.
But when it comes to the men who are playing the sexual assaulters, I think that Jenn has left room for all those things. We have a few sex assaulters that come through the series as we go through it, but they are all different types of people.
It's not like we are making them the obvious villain, because that's not what it looks like in life, and so often with the news headlines, a lot of the men who are doing this are incredibly popular in university, the quarterbacks of the football or the star of the basketball team. So there is a lovely side to them and they are liked and popular and people can't believe it when they hear this news and often they just don't believe it, and so we wanted to not have an obvious comic book villain-esque style.
We wanted to have the character of Nate, especially, in the show to feel like a human being so that the show can talk about what consent is and that it's confusing for a lot of men and it shouldn't be confusing. It's confusing for men that could be walking next to us or someone we know. So we wanted to talk about what consent is in a black and white way and not in a grey way, but also showing what it is now.
That many people have justified what sexual assault is, and it's not. They think it's consensual sex and it's not, it's sexual assault, and it should be black and white, but the world is not black and white and Sweet/Vicious was written to reflect that. I think Jen has written especially Nate in a very human way, which I think was very important to do, so that it was more complicated like life is complicated.
What about false rape reports? On Sweet/Vicious would there be an opportunity for a disgruntled girlfriend to get someone accused so they could get beat up by the vigilante? Will something like that be addressed at all?
We don't deal with that on the show. The percentage of women who lie about rape is 2%, which is a very similar percentage to most other crimes. I think as a society people that number is much higher, and it isn't. It's an incredibly low number of women who falsely accuse men of rape. But if that does happen, it seems to be all over the news.
I think our show wanted to focus on the voices that are not being heard and the voices that are not being believed and the women who are not reporting it, either. We had so many statistics, but there are thousands of women who never report their sexual assault at all, so that's definitely the focus that we wanted the show to be on.
Obviously if we get Season 2 or Season 3, who knows where we'll go in terms of whether rapists will have a level of redemption and all of that. I'm excited to find out myself. But in Season 1, we wanted to definitely concentrate on giving survivors a voice, and make sure the story focused on that, really.
Despite the content of the show, it's still a comedy drama. Can you talk about the tone of the show and how it balances between the two?
Yeah, obviously we're dealing with the topic of sexual assault which is a very real and heavy topic, but the show is about these two girls, and their female empowerment and their friendship. The show is definitely a mash-up of genres in that life is a mash-up of genres.
It's even difficult to describe the show in one sentence because, and I think Jen said this very eloquently once, life cannot be summed up in one sentence and you couldn't sum yourself up in one sentence, so why should the show have to be summed up. The show is very funny in equal measures as it is dark as it deals with the heavy topic.
There's a very Kick-Ass aspect to it as it deals with the violence and Stacy Sher is our producer who produced Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, so there are elements of those in there. And also, the comedy lies in these two girls who would never be hanging out if the circumstances hadn't arisen, and they try to muddle through university life while trying to lead a double life, hiding their vigilante side from their university life.
There's comedy and lightness in those things as well as light in the darkness.
Be sure to tune into Sweet/Vicious Season 1 Episode 1, "The Blueprint," on MTV Tuesdays at 19/9c. Here's a trailer to entice you to watch.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.