Veronica Mars meets Kick-Ass on MTV’s darkly comedic thriller about a pair of college women who beat up campus sex offenders by night. Ninja-like sorority girl Jules (Eliza Bennett) provides the brawn in the duo, and weed-dealing hacker Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) the brains, forming an unlikely matchup that only happens when Ophelia stumbles upon Jules attacking one of her targets in an alleyway one night.
Both women are well-drawn in the first episodes of Sweet/Vicious, but while their scenes crackle with giddy odd-couple chemistry, the show’s edge isn’t as sharp as it wants to be. Instead, it feels somewhat blunted by its own ambition: Jules dons her mask because she was sexually assaulted herself, but her pain gets overshadowed by clumsy pacing and convoluted plotting. Yes, she’s a cop’s daughter and a vigilante juggling school with slicing sex offenders’ kneecaps, but the show can’t quite strike a balance between the Tarantino-slash-graphic-novel violence of her attacks and the emotional gravity of her past. (A bland love interest doesn’t help.) Ophelia, meanwhile, gets the cool-girl-with-a-heart treatment. Teal-haired and barbed-tongued, she’s practically in trouble with campus security 24/7 and rarely goes to class. She’s a cliché, even if she’s the last person to think of herself that way.
Sweet/Vicious seems confused about what to do with the characters around its leading ladies. In a particularly messy subplot, Harris (You’re the Worst‘s standout Brandon Mychal Smith), a wannabe lawyer and Ophelia’s roommate, talks about race and even gets arrested for no reason other than the color of his skin late in the second episode, but the show doesn’t dive much deeper than that. Aside from her best friend, Jules’ sorority sisters come off as caricatures more than actual human beings — which is especially discouraging when you realize they’re the ones she’s trying to protect.
Yet, some scenes hit a deeper emotional impact, and those scenes tease what the show could be. For instance, Jules daydreams about telling the truth, and as she comedically rambles about her angst, she begins to look more and more manic — until that dream dissipates and she deflates, back to being exhausted and lost in the middle of her sorority house’s living room.
Some of that dark comedy also lends itself to impressively twisted moments. You’ll never listen to Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity” the same way again, and Ophelia’s knack for vomiting at the worst times when things get bloody provides a brilliantly sick punchline. And besides, there’s nothing sweeter than watching the amateur vigilantes take down their targets, one bloody battle at a time. B