There’s more to “Sweet Tooth” than you might first realize.
Netflix’s new fantasy series, based on the DC comics by Jeff Lemire and produced by Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr., appears as a bit odd, a bit juvenile and even a bit silly. Set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a deadly virus and a phenomenon in which babies are born as animal/human hybrids, the show at first glance gives off a cutesy and kiddie vibe. After all, the characters refer to the onset of the virus as “The Great Crumble.”
But there is something deeper to the series (now streaming, ★★★ out of four), which balances its, well, sweeter elements with the expected perils of a post-apocalypse: violence, death and cruelty. Thanks to an appealing young star, a flashback-heavy structure, reassuring narration and a bright aesthetic, “Sweet” achieves the tricky art of a high-concept, family-friendly fantasy series, especially when it veers a little more on the more mature, bitter side.
Stefania Lavie Owen as Bear, Christian Convery as Gus and Nonso Anozie as Tommy Jepperd on "Sweet Tooth." (Photo: Netflix)
“Sweet” begins with a virus that kills millions and changes everyone’s lives (its least outlandish plot twist, unfortunately). The virus, which is simply referred to as “the sick,” is devastating and deadly, and it coincides with all those hybrid animal/human babies. Between the pandemic and the furry-tailed infants – two events that may be related – society collapses.
The series focuses on Gus (Christian Convery), a half-boy, half-deer who’s mysteriously older than the rest of the animal kids. His father, Richard (Will Forte), raised Gus for about 10 years with no contact with the decaying outside world. But when their homestead is discovered, Gus is forced to leave and enter a world where nearly everyone wants to kill or experiment on him.
Gus eventually persuades Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), a loner he meets, to help him search for his long-lost mother, who might be somewhere in Colorado. Along the way, they meet Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), a hardened teen with a fanatic belief that hybrids are the saviors of Earth, who helps the pair in their quest.
In addition to Gus’s story, “Sweet” offers two parallel narratives focusing on other significant players in the apocalypse. There’s Adi Singh (Adeel Akhtar), a doctor who has managed to keep his infected wife alive for 10 years only to discover that her treatments were significantly less than ethical; and Aimee (Dania Ramirez), who makes it her mission to shelter hybrids while targeted by the evil Last Men, who consider eradicating hybrid children to be their sacred mission.
Adeel Akhtar as Doctor Aditya Singh in "Sweet Tooth." (Photo: Netflix)
“Sweet” takes a few episodes to fully color in its world, but that’s not a bad thing. The pacing is swift and the story nimble; each episode is more absorbing than the last. The premiere is intriguing; the second episode adds more detail; and by the third, the world after the “Great Crumble” becomesclear even forthose who haven’t read the acclaimed comics.
Although “Sweet” began production before 2020, it is clearly influenced by our collective experience over the past 15 months, from the style of masks its characters wear for virus protection to signs that say “remain six feet apart.” It’s jarring, and a bit unsettling, to see the hallmarks of our own world in a fictional one that is so much worse. But series creators Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz make “Sweet” familiar without overwhelming the audience with COVID parallels.
The animal/human hybrids in "Sweet Tooth." (Photo: Netflix)
In spite of the cute kid with deer antlers aesthetic and the show’s title, “Sweet Tooth” is not for little kids. Although it’s less dark than grim apocalyptic dramas like “The Leftovers” or “The Walking Dead,” it is not a jaunty walk through the forest, either. There is violence, death and mature themes about the costs of survival.
And while the series will likely appeal to some older kids and families, it is at its weakest when it focuses too heavily on the younger characters besides Gus. Some of the animal/human hybrids swing more animal than human, and despite their best efforts the show’s special-effects team can’t make them look much more realistic than an animatronic character at Disney World. Other hybrids that appear more human than animal unfortunately have far too much in common with the Broadway costumes for “Cats.”
Still, “Sweet” has far more going for it than against it, and its eight-episode season will likely be quickly devoured by fans. It may not be the next “Stranger Things,” but it certainly gets closer to that formula than many other series that have tried.
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