'Sweet Tooth' on Netflix is a must-watch tale of pandemic, people and how we can find good from the depths of evil in a surprisingly hopeful dystopia.
- 🦌 A surprisingly accessible and touching post-apocalyptic tale.
- 🦌 Strong performances from the grown-ups and the youngsters.
- 🦌 Makes you want to get outside and roam around.
- 🙈 Multiple cliffhangers will make waiting for Season 2 hard.
Life, they say, is a series of contrasts. Same goes for art. (Disclosure: I have no idea if they say that, or who "they" are in the first place.) You don't even have to get halfway through the first eight episodes of Sweet Tooth on Netflix before you see that in action.
The series — based on a 2009 D.C. comic by Jeff Lemire — goes something like this: A deadly virus decimated the globe some 10 years ago. Nearly simultaneously, babies began being born as human/animal hybrids, and nobody knows why. That could be the start of some The Walking Dead-esque spinoff. But instead what we get — and we're pretty much greeted with this out of the gate — is one of the more touching and gentile shows of late.
There are no zombies. Civilization has fallen (presumably worldwide), but there are still pockets of normalcy. The linear timeline means the hybrid children are just that — still children. And with children comes innocence, and the help of those who are able to see the good in change. But widespread death and destruction also tends to bring out the worst in many of us.
That sets the table for a compelling series that will bring you to tears as often as it's going to turn your stomach.
Sweet Tooth is an odd name for a series about the apocalypse. But there's that whole contrast thing again. It actually is referring to a young deer/boy named Gus (Christian Convery), who has spent the last 10 years living in the middle of the woods, alone, with his father, who he calls Pubba (Will Forte). Pubba seems simple, but learned. You can't quite tell if that's because he's trying to teach and protect a kid who's part human and part animal, and very obviously in danger should the outside world find him, or if it's just who Pubba is. Pubba recreates children's books. He tells Gus stories. He does his best to raise this little deer child alone in the woods as best he can.
We also meet Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife, Rani (Aliza Vellani). When "The Great Crumble" went down (a childish name for the end of the world, no?) Singh and his hospital went through something that we actually have far more context for today than we might have had Sweet Tooth had been released two years ago. (The pilot episode was shot in 2019 in New Zealand, pre-actual pandemic.)
The experience was so bad, that it led him to hang up his stethoscope and care for Rani full-time. It turns out she's got "The Sick," too — but he's been able to keep it at bay with some sort of secret, experimental treatment. Good thing, too. Because we find out what happens if your pinky finger starts to tremble, which is the telltale sign that you're infected. The Singhs' neighbors are quick to act when one of their own starts to shake at house party. They strap poor Doug to a chair using cellophane cling. Wrap, and set his house on fire. All while singing "Auld Lang Syne" from the front yard.
But instead of saying goodbye to the previous year, they're saying goodbye to their friend, whom they're burning alive. It's absolutely civilized incivility. Because contrasts.
Dr. Singh ends up being recruited to take over the medical practice that in addition to just keeping the surviving population healthy as possible also happens to make the secret treatments that are keeping his wife alive and symptom free. And he quickly learns that the secret treatment has an extremely high price.
Meanwhile, Gus and Pubba can't stay hidden in the woods forever. They're eventually found by Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), who Gus, in his limited vocabulary and experience, calls "Big Man." Jep is just trying to do his thing on his own. He doesn't want any part of Gus. And to be fair, Gus initially tried to do what he'd been taught by Pubba should strangers show up. "If I hear a voice, I will run. If I see a human, I will hide." But the call of life outside the fence is strong, especially because Gus believes he can find his mother in a place called Colorado. He's maybe naive, but he's also smarter than he lets on.
That leads to a fairly epic great train adventure, as well as them meeting the Animal Army. They're a bunch of orphaned teens and young adults who have dedicated their post-apocalyptic lives to protecting the hybrid children. They train in virtual reality but also have a definitely Lord of the Flies feel to them, which ultimately leads to the ouster of the leader, Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen). She's as hopeful as she is realistic — more example of contrast — but ultimately becomes an integral part of the Sweet Tooth/Big Man/Bear triad.
Two other faces we need to introduce — Amiee Eden (Dania Ramirez), who was a former therapist when The Great Crumble happened. She founded The Preserve, which becomes a sanctuary for orphaned hybrids. Obviously The Preserve (and Amiee) are a pretty big target of the "Last Men," who are set on eradicating all the hybrids. That means attracting the attention of General Abbot (Neil Sandilands), who's a sort of Nazi throwback who will let absolutely nothing stop him or his beard from accumulating power while killing who needs to be killed.
All of these characters and their backstories (at times explored via flashback) begin to weave together as we close in on what obviously is the first of multiple seasons. (At least it better be, with the multiple cliffhangers.) We start to get some answers. We start to get more questions about those answers. We learn that the same thing that created The Sick also created the hybrids. (We still don't quite know how, though. Or why.)
And we get all that with that same underlying theme of light and dark, good and evil. A gentle touch vs. unspeakable violence. And that it's all done with an elegance and grace that belies the fact that that it's all happening in the transition between the end of the world and the start of a new one. It's not The Walking Dead. There's not blood for blood's sake. You won't find a severed head anywhere. But you know it's out there, and it's not that far away.
The question at this point is whether it'll catch up with the intrepid travelers in Season 2, and who it might reach out and take. Regardless, it'll make you feel a few things along the way.
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