MTV’s new series Sweet/Vicious is both of those things and more. The show is about Jules (Eliza Bennett), a sorority golden girl by day and vigilante by night. Dressed in all black, Jules confronts men who’ve gotten away with assaulting women on campus when the school didn’t do enough to protect female students. Enter Ophelia (played by Taylor Dearden), a pot-dealing tech genius who discovers Jules’ true identity and helps her keep the fight going.
Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Bennett and Dearden to learn more about the show, as well as with Sweet/Vicious creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and director Joseph Kahn, who worked on the pilot and second episode.
Here are 11 reasons why Sweet/Vicious is going to kick ass.
Sweet/Vicious began as a half-hour pilot, but once the bosses at MTV saw it, they agreed with Robinson that there was more story to tell. The original director of the 30-minute pilot, Rebecca Thomas, was no longer available. She’s developing a live-action Little Mermaid movie, so Kahn was brought in to make the pilot an hour long.
“The back half of our pilot now, from the stuff in the garage on to the end, that is all Becca from our original pilot excluding one scene,” Robinson said. “I remember her watching the director’s cut and seeing the first footage of it all together, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s so short. I don’t know what happened. It’s too short.’ MTV thankfully felt the same way, so when they picked us up to series, they were like, ‘We’d love for this to be an hour long, because there’s no way we could’ve told these stories in 20 minutes.’”
In shows like Alias and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, it was great to see women play indestructible action-heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stallone before them. Jules and Ophelia kick ass too, but they can be hurt. In fact, some of the men they go after are able to overpower them, making it even more suspenseful that they persevere.
“She’s a real person,” Robinson said. “I really wanted Jules and Ophelia to feel like real girls. It is definitely a heightened environment. It’s totally supposed to feel like that comic book kick-ass world, but it’s more in line with a Paper Girls or Kick-Ass — something where it’s real people doing extraordinary things, but in that heightened, fun superhero world.”
Kahn worked to make the fight scenes feel more real than some of the epic battles we see in movies.
“A big part of it is making sure that it felt more real and more grounded than anything that was too over the top,” Kahn said. “Most action scenes in Hollywood now have been heavily influenced by Hong Kong action cinema. If you ever watch any choreography now, it’s super heightened. I just wanted to bring it back to a more grounded perspective.”
Dearden and Bennett trained like UFC fighters, according to Kahn. Bennett said they trained in martial arts and Parkour two hours a day three times a week for a month before filming.
“We did a mixture between martial arts, and we did some Parkour and free running as well, so we felt comfortable jumping over things and rolling over cars,” Bennett said. “There was a thing we kept trying every week, to run up a wall, a vertical wall. For the first two or three times, Taylor and I couldn’t do it. So that was a big moment for both of us when we got over the top of the wall.”
Fans of Kahn know his Taylor Swift video for “Bad Blood,” which featured Swift and an epic cast of Hollywood badass women as kick-ass action heroes. Kahn said the “Bad Blood” video helped pave the way for his Sweet/Vicious fight scenes.
“I think ‘Bad Blood’ actually helped me play with action choreography, which strangely enough, I hadn’t been doing a lot of in the last couple of years,” Kahn said. “So it reintroduced me, just by the opening fight scene, letting me put my head back into how I would choreograph fights.”
On the fast-paced schedule of television, Kahn only has three to six hours to shoot those fight scenes for Sweet/Vicious. He spends more time preparing, making storyboards so producers can see what he’s planning to shoot, and stealing rehearsal time with Dearden and Bennett.
“I would actually have rehearsal days where I would actually work out the scene with the actors and the choreographer, but even before then I had a storyboarded version of what I wanted,” Kahn said. “It was literally grab a rehearsal for an hour or two. I think what helped is I storyboarded, which I think was unusual for television. I storyboarded every single shot. I pretty much had a very clear of idea of how all the action beats were going to go.”
Robinson originally pitched an hour-long show, but part of her original pitch was a split timeline, where Jules and Ophelia in the present would flash back to their college experience. Even when MTV gave Sweet/Vicious the full hour, they kept the whole story in college. So Robinson knows what happens to them after graduation and could get there in several successful seasons.
“It’s great knowing that I have a blueprint, if we are lucky enough to have a season four, five, six that I know the characters after college as well as I now know them in college,” Robinson said. “MTV was like, ‘We love this. We want to do the college story. We want to do dark comedy.’ MTV was always like, ‘We think that this is a great place to get to and drive to.’”
Ophelia’s green hair is eye catching, so of course everyone wants to believe Dearden really dyed her hair for the role. Well, she did, once. After the pilot, they made a wig, but it was accurate down to her real hairline.
“It definitely felt right,” Dearden said. “I’m a natural blonde. Ophelia is not a blonde. The wonderful creator, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, and Amanda Lasher, our showrunner and exec producer, they were like trying to approach the subject. They were like, ‘Um, would you dye your hair?’ and I was just like, ‘Yeah, no, she is not a blonde.’ So then we were talking colors and someone pitched pink. I was like, ‘I don’t think she would ever do pink either.’ We came across this really cool Instagram post somewhere of what ended up being my hair color: the mermaidy looking green blue mix that changes in the light. It’s got that perfect comic feel to it, kind of Scott Pilgrim feel. It worked.”
Hazing has also been in the news as traditional fraternity rituals have gotten dangerous. It happens at sororities too, so where Jules sees an injustice on campus, she’s going to make it right.
“Jules’s sorority, the reason I love it, is they are showing a sorority that is full of incredibly supportive, powerful, wonderful women,” Bennett said. “But we also tell the flip side of that, that that’s not always the case in the fraternity/sorority system.”
It’s not only hazing either, and there are only so many injustices Jules and Ophelia can fight in one season. Dearden can’t wait to do a season two and fight more. “The best way to describe it is any injustice that exists within their sphere of campus,” Dearden said. “Girl-on-girl hazing is a sexual assault absolutely. That’s like peer pressure in a way that’s just as wrong. We try to do every injustice. For example, there is a moment where Harris (Brandon Mychal Smith) is stopped and frisked. That is a horrendous injustice. It is presented, and it will definitely be a future topic.”
Sweet/Vicious does kick ass, but gets serious about campus assaults, as do the show’s stars and creators in discussing the topic.
“It’s presented in a way that’s palatable, which I think any discussion starter has to be presented as such,” Dearden said. “It’s such a catch-22. We would love to not have this show — in that we would love that problem to not exist. Obviously, we want this show but we also don’t want the problem. So it’s an interesting thing going into it. We don’t exploit it. We have nice PSAs, and we’re just here to listen.”
Jules is a survivor of sexual assault, and it prompts her to become an avenger for all women on campus. That is a complex issue, and in episode seven, Sweet/Vicious will flash back to the entire ordeal Jules suffered.
That said, there’s also some immature potty-humor surrounding their exploits. Watch for Ophelia to barf and some body fluids to excrete unexpectedly.
“I love that stuff,” Robinson said. “I think it’s super funny and that’s the real world. My cousin is a doctor. I called him and I was like, ‘What would happen?’ He was like, ‘Honestly, he’d poop in the trunk.’ When I heard that I could not stop laughing. There’s a lot of darkness in the world but there’s also so much humor and the entertainment I like to watch always has both.”
Sweet/Vicious is not suggesting anyone go out and become a vigilante. As long as it’s the safe space of a TV show, it can be very entertaining and hopefully share the message that violence is not the answer.
“She learns it herself,” Robinson said. “It is part of her arc that violence does not heal you. Violence does not solve violence. Now, this is a superhero show so there’s always going to be a little bit of that kick-ass nature. That’s in the DNA of the show but we do definitely, as the show goes on, speak to the fact that violence cannot heal Jules. She is using the violence and she’s using her vigilante activity as her coping mechanism and what she fuels all this energy into because she doesn’t know how to deal with what happened to her. She doesn’t know how to get the correct therapy that she needs. In later episodes, we do speak to the fact that violence does not solve violence, and Jules really does need to look inside herself and get the help that she needs. Beating up other kids is never going to heal her.”
When Ophelia first figures out that Jules is the vigilante, she becomes her tech guru. Robinson said by episode three, Jules will train Ophelia to fight too, and they have a training montage like the best ’80s action movies!
“Those scenes were some of mine and Taylor’s favorite scenes to shoot, especially because we were training not in our ninja costumes, so stunt-wise we have to do everything ourselves,” Bennett said. “That was really fun because I got to flip her over my shoulder a few times which was enjoyable for me, maybe less so for her.”
Dearden apologized for making those training scenes harder than they needed to be.
“I’m terrible remembering choreography,” Dearden said. “Not doing it but just purely remembering. So it was kind of funny. Every once in a while I wouldn’t duck in time and Eliza would clock me on the shoulder, and I’d be like, ‘Dammit, that was my fault.’ It was always my fault. She flipped me over her shoulder a lot of times.”
Great shows make great friendships. While Jules and Ophelia become a dynamic duo, the actors truly became best friends. Bennett was even calling from Dearden’s porch for her interview for this article.
“It means the Ophelia and Taylor scenes are so easy,” Bennett said. “We eat a lot of Mexican food. We play ping pong in her house. She took me up to Santa Barbara for the weekend. We sound like we’re a couple. She took me for a romantic weekend to Santa Barbara, and she just came to England a couple weeks ago. We hung out in London. We mainly eat food. That’s largely what we do together.”
Dearden elaborated on their close friendship.
“We’ve had late night snuggles, just for fun,” Dearden said. “We are very close. We found ourselves one weekend after months of shooting, we were on my porch. I was reading, she was texting, and she looked up and goes, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve spent every weekend together. That means we spent seven days a week together.’ I’m like, ‘Wait, is that weird?’ She’s like, ‘I don’t feel like it’s weird, but I think other people would feel it’s weird.’ So we ended up spending every single day together. We’re really close.”
Sweet/Vicious premieres November 15 at 10 p.m. on MTV