Reliving some of the fear and isolation of 2020 won’t be for everyone – but Netflix’s Sweet Tooth is a hopeful take on coping with the fall-out of a pandemic.
Sweet Tooth begins ten years after The Great Crumble. A poorly-understood but deadly, rapidly-spreading virus has hit humanity and it has descended into chaos, heightened by the emergence of part animal, part human hybrids, born at the onset of the pandemic.
The story follows a hybrid deer boy named Gus (Christian Convery) as he strives to learn more about the world and himself. As an outcast, hunted and shunned by humans, his existence is lonely. Until he meets Jep (Nonso Anozie), a human, who is dragged into Gus’ journey of self-discovery.
Jep joins Gus as he ventures from his isolated home in the woods and learns that the world is a lot bigger, and scarier, than he first thought. Hybrids are outcasts in Sweet Tooth so Jep reluctantly takes up the role of protector. Gus’s adventure leads him across the US, hoping to find his mother but the Last Men, an army with the goal of capturing and studying hybrids, are a constant threat.
Along the way we’re introduced to compelling and complex characters like doctor Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar), loner Amy (Dania Ramirez) and fiery teen Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen). Each episode shows us a little more about a character’s past and its lasting psychological impact.
Jep’s backstory is possibly the most engaging of all of them – we’re gradually fed hints about his life, but only in the last episode do we learn enough to almost understand him. The final episode also demonstrates how the lives of our seemingly unrelated characters, like Amy and Singh, intersect.
Elements of Sweet Tooth’s pandemic feel familiar, such as the masks, face-shields, and temperature-checking. You may feel shudder of morbid nostalgia as loud-speakers announce “Stay home, do not come into contact with anyone showing symptoms” and the dreaded word: quarantine.
But the world in Sweet Tooth is far more dystopian. At the onset of the pandemic, cars are aflame, and as it continues derelict buildings become engulfed in leaves. Communities are constantly worried about another wave of “the sick”, and will go to any lengths to prevent another pandemic. Nature really does return in the absence of humanity, much like it did during the covid-19 pandemic. Cars are rare – some choosing to travel on horseback instead, and mobile phones are replaced with radio communications. Sadly the chaos of the pandemic means the internet no longer works in the Sweet Tooth universe. The most unexpected thing to come from watching the show was my gratitude for covid-19’s minimal impact on my broadband connection.
The flaws of the show are few and far between. To be picky, it’s a little hard to understand just how life became quite so dystopian after The Great Crumble. And the science behind the purple flowers signifying an area touched by “the sick” could have been explained more. But even without this, they’re an interesting addition.
The masterful screenwriting and fantastic acting are more than enough to keep you thoroughly invested in each character’s emotional journey. It takes a lighter, more hopeful tone than the Jeff Lemire comic it is based on. The show is an eccentric combination of science fiction and fantasy and well worth binge-watching.
More on these topics: