‘Sweet/Vicious’ Canceled by MTV but Should Live on Elsewhere (Opinion)

'Sweet/Vicious' Canceled by MTV But Should Live On Elsewhere
Courtesy MTV

I had a feeling this was coming, but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

News broke today that MTV has canceled “Sweet/Vicious.” In a message to the show’s fans, creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson vowed to look for a new home for the comedically-flavored drama. “To say that I’m devastated would be the understatement of the year,” she wrote.

I’m too angry to mince words: This is just a stupid decision by MTV.

Having been in this TV-critic gig for a while now, I can say a lot of the network’s scripted programming has consistently had trouble gaining much traction with viewers, the media and critics. I say this as someone who watched and generally liked the entire first season of MTV’s “The Shannara Chronicles,” but it’s not like that low-budget fantasy series made such an big splash that the network can rest on its laurels when it comes to live-action, scripted programs. MTV needs to nurture what it has, especially given that its one notable success in the hourlong arena, “Teen Wolf,” is ending soon.

Sweet/Vicious,” handled in the right way, could have become a steady performer for the network, not to mention a media darling. Handled right, it could have been the network’s “13 Reasons Why.” 

If there’s any justice, it’ll succeed for some network that recognizes its value. There’s been so much turbulence at Viacom that presumably MTV management just wanted to start fresh with a new lineup of shows. This decision, whatever its reasoning, was short-sighted, to say the least. 

The thing is, “Sweet/Vicious” set itself apart in a very crowded TV landscape, and though it was barely promoted, it found a small but loyal audience. I grind my teeth at the thought of what kind of impression it could have made, and what kind of audience could have been built up, had MTV allocated even a little more money and promotional resources to it.

One of the greatest joys of this job is coming across something around the margins that does something cool, unique, or entertaining. When a show you’ve never heard of does all of those things, it’s like getting a jolt of joy straight to the nervous system. You start watching a pilot, and a delightful feeling creeps over you: “Oh, this is good! Who made this? What is this? I want more!” 

“Sweet/Vicious” was one of those shows. It wasn’t just smart, funny and able to craft engaging stories on a very low budget. It wasn’t just an excellent vehicle for its talented stars, Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden. It was about something.

As I wrote in my review, “Despite the low-key and occasionally goofy tone you’d expect from a semi-comedic saga about mismatched new friends, the core concern of ‘Sweet/Vicious’ is the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. The main accomplishment of the promising show is that it never loses sight of the issues surrounding rape culture, violation, and consent. But it’s not an ‘eat your vegetables’ kind of program — it’s essentially an enjoyable superhero saga.”

Robinson’s idea was such a smart one. She took the conventions of the superhero origin story, and tied it to two different things: the story of mismatched crime fighters (a perennial TV staple), and the anger of women who were fed up with harassment, assault and the feeling that these issues were being minimized or ignored. It explored the emotions and friendships of survivors with empathy, humor and intelligence. Very few other shows explored the ramifications of sexual assault as well as this show did; it often did a better and more nimble job than programs with much larger budgets on much higher-profile networks.

It was also really fun simply as the story of an unlikely but believable friendship between two very different characters who, through each other, began to truly understand their potential.

“Sometimes the freshness of a show’s concept and the energetic execution of the intriguing ideas at its core make up for other wobbles, and that’s definitely the case with this charming show about sexual assault (which is not a phrase I ever expected to write, but here we are).” That’s what I wrote when “Sweet/Vicious” made my 2016 Top 20 New Shows list.

MTV should want to be in business with Robinson, Dearden and Bennett, who are all very talented. MTV should want to keep alive shows that connect with the concerns of its youthful audience. If social media counts for anything (and it increasingly counts for a lot), people tweeted at me about this show all the time. Its audience didn’t just like the show, they loved it. Audience passion and engagement matter more and more in this jam-packed TV landscape. Those things should certainly matter to MTV.

It feels odd to be writing this kind of old-school “save this show” column, to be honest. The fact of the matter is, I feel more inclined on most days to write columns against renewals.

There should not be another season of “13 Reasons Why,” which is reportedly in the works. For a host of obvious reasons, I think that would be a disaster. News also broke today of a return for “Roseanne,” but I regard all reboots with extreme wariness these days, given how many have ended up being cash grabs. There are simply too many unjustifiable renewals these days. Every day, it seems, a network orders more episodes of a show that was either poorly made or barely noticed — if not both.

Regardless of whether you agree about the flood of questionable renewals, the fact is, it’s all too easy for shows, new or old, to get lost in the shuffle. But some shows that already made their mark deserve more life. Especially if they were just getting started. 

“Sweet/Vicious” was a gem. Some savvy executive should recognize that, and do something sweet — and smart.