Sweet Vicious isn’t only putting a spin on the traditional superhero genre, they’re also re-framing classic television tropes.
If you’re a big fan of teen dramas, you may notice they can get a little stale. The same tired tropes get played over and over again to the point they’re downright formulaic.
Luckily for us, Sweet Vicious doesn’t have that problem.
If anything, it goes out of its way to subvert tropes and dismantle traditional ideas we have about specific character types. Which is why we want to take a moment to appreciate some of these complex characters and highlight what makes them so unique.
‘Bitch, not my Chobani!’
What you need to know about Harris James is that he’s as cool as he is nerdy. He’s the Kanye-listening, Notting Hill-loving, frozen yogurt-worshiping man of my dreams that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else in our cultural lexicon. The closest parallel I can think of for him is Barack Obama. So yeah. He’s basically one of a kind. Harris will tightly bond to ‘the weed girl,’ go on an annual binge-drinking spree with her, confess to having sexual fantasies about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and scream about the racial injustices of campus policing all within the span of minutes. He’s a firm believer in justice and responsibility, but he’s not afraid to throw down and have a good time. It’s also important to note that he’s Black. Which isn’t always the case in a classic TV drama.
Black characters frequently have to choose between their respective identities. Are they athletic or are they nerdy? Are they socially conscious or are they completely removed from those types of discussions? Do they lean into Black culture or are they essentially bleached of these characteristics and made to blend in with their white peers? This false dichotomy doesn’t really take place in real life. Culture has been widened and remixed so fundamentally that only the most narrow-minded need to pick one definitive box to fit into. And Harris certainly doesn’t do that.
‘Hairball, hairball, hairball, poodle.’
Fiona Price is a pre-law sorority sister known for being just as good at doing mushrooms as she is at memorizing legal cases. Her mother is a federal circuit judge, and from what we can tell, she’s in line to follow in her footsteps. Although we didn’t get a lot of time to spend with her in season 1, it’s clear that she certainly knows her ish. She didn’t hesitate for a second on schooling Harris in this regard.
That doesn’t mean Fiona can’t be a little spacey at times. You might think of her as Darlington’s resident Elle Woods. But apart from that iconic character, we don’t really get to see women like that on TV very often. And it’s important to reaffirm that you can be intelligent and powerful and still be yourself. Lord knows there are plenty of ‘eccentric’ male lawyers out there on TV. Let’s remind girls that they don’t need to fit into one specific type of mold to be exceptional.
‘This piece is about abuse and depression. It’s blue for a reason.’
At first glance you could write Tyler off as nothing more than Jules’ knight in shining armor come to save the day. The boy who is so perfect he’d be incredibly hard not to fall for. But as Sweet Vicious progresses, we realize that Tyler is much more than just a symbol for everything a ‘good guy’ should be.
It’s a little understated at times, but Tyler is clearly suffering from depression and anxiety. They operate at different frequencies, and during this point in Sweet Vicious, his depression may be in remission. But if you take a step back and look at everything from a distance, these elements are clearly present. Not only does he have a strained relationship with his delinquent brother, the relationship with his mother is rocky as well. She certainly doesn’t support his internal drive to become an artist. Meanwhile, the loving and warm relationship he had with his father was ripped away from him at 12 years old when his father passed away from cancer.
So although the show clearly frames Tyler as this nurturing and reassuring figure in Jules’ life, he’s also carrying plenty of his own baggage. For instance, when Jules surprises him with a popup art show displaying his work, he can’t deal with people analyzing his private, emotionally-ridden pieces. He gets overwhelmed, tells Jules that he’s not ready for this, and leaves on the verge of a panic attack. The two eventually work it out and Tyler returns her thoughtful gesture in kind, but what the whole ordeal reveals to us (and Jules) is that Tyler isn’t just a blank slate primed and ready to have the ‘ideal boyfriend’ status projected onto him. He’s bringing his own trauma into their relationship as well. And, hopefully, next season we’ll get to see that explored even further.
’Look, there’s a badass queen with amazing bone structure.’
What makes Sweet Vicious’ Kennedy so groundbreaking you ask? Well, she’s one of the few characters on TV who completely has their shit together. That’s right, folks, Kennedy is essentially the Beyoncé of Darlington. An outspoken feminist, a savvy individual, cool and confident but never overbearing or intimidating. Not to mention she and Jules have one of the healthiest best friend relationships I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s a perfect example of why you don’t have to dramatize relationships to make them interesting. Real life is complicated and complex enough. Plus, believe it or not, some people are actually trying to move through the world without causing unnecessary drama in their life. Kennedy is a great example of that.
Back to her relationship with Jules, though. Kennedy is just about all you could hope for in a best friend. Because the two of them are both on the same wavelength, Kennedy is clearly aware that something isn’t right with Jules. But instead of pressuring her to open up or guilt tripping her into not expressing her feelings, she’s patient and understanding and does her absolute best not to take Jules’ silence personally. When things come to a head, it takes Kennedy a second to work through and process exactly what she needs to do. But after channeling her inner goddess and looking at the hard truth of the situation, she rises above and levels up her humanity once again.
‘Damn it! I have to go get my cream.’
One of the founding principles creator Jenn Kaytin Robinson wanted to instill in Sweet/Vicious was that there was to be no unnecessary girl on girl hate in the show. That’s not to say ladies won’t have falling outs or that bad behavior can be hand waved if it comes from a female. She simply wasn’t interested in inserting any stereotypical ‘bitchy’ characters for the sake of villainy.
Mackenzie is a good example of this against-the-grain format. Yes, she’s high-strung. Yes, she wants rule and order in her sorority. Yes, she’s a little pushy and intense when it comes to getting those things accomplished. But never once does this behavior come from a place of jealousy or anger. Mackenzie simply wants to make her sorority the best it can be. But she refuses to run over her sisters to make sure that happens. This shouldn’t be such a revolutionary concept to invest in, but unfortunately it often is.
‘Horny turtles ruin everything.’
And then there is Ophelia. It’s hard to even find the words to describe who Ophelia is because she’s just so many things. You could say she’s one part loveable stoner, another part antisocial tech wiz, but that doesn’t even begin to touch on all of the dimensions she possesses. Ophelia spends a lot of time pretending she doesn’t care. Her actions, on the other hand, speak otherwise. We get a good look into Ophelia’s psyche when we watched her interact with her mother. We learn that Ophelia has spent a long time craving love and acceptance. She tries to diminish her own desires so when they’re ultimately unmet, the disappointment doesn’t overwhelm her. But honestly, has that ever worked for anyone in the history of ever?
Ophelia’s overall awkwardness probably drove people away growing up. Now that it’s less of an issue in college, her social skills are being pushed to their limits. Although she bristles and uses her snark to keep people away, that tactic often fails because it’s not what she ultimately wants. Once Ophelia finds Jules, a purpose settles over her that I don’t think she realized she needed. Finally, she discovers an opportunity to use her tech skills to help people and reach out to the world in a way that doesn’t put focus on her. She gets to live out this fun, glamorous spy life and still go to bed in her ratty loft. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she might get to make a couple more incredibly close friends along the way.
‘There’s stuff happening out there, and no one is doing anything about it.’
Last but not least is our girl Jules. At first glance, Jules isn’t much more than a typical girl next door character. But on Sweet Vicious that sort of pigeonholing goes against the fundamental nature of the show. Jules knows she looks like a petite little sorority girl, and she uses that to her advantage. She takes every single one of society’s presumptions about who she is and uses them as leverage. One of her greatest strengths is how men, and women for that matter, will underestimate her and never expect that she could be the school’s vigilante.
There’s a few characters in history of television you may be able to relate Jules to. Buffy is the first to come to mind. But the thing to remember about Jules is that she was a victim of sexual assault. She wasn’t chosen for a greater purpose. She’s wasn’t ordained to be someone’s hero. It was 100% her choice to take on the patriarchy one face punch at a time, literally and figuratively suiting up for battle and defending those who couldn’t defend themselves. All the while carrying around her combat gear in a cute hot pink backpack. Much like Jules herself.
There were other characters and moments that impressed me this season as well. It was so refreshing to watch Kennedy and Ophelia bond over their love for Jules and not get defensive or possessive about their individual relationships with her. Evan was another surprising character, too. He was emotionally honest and pretty damn socially aware.
All I want in season 2 is more of this. Give us a deep dive into existing characters, and new people to subvert new norms.