Given the past 18 months or so, you’d forgive audiences for tiring of grim apocalyptic stories about deadly viruses ravaging the globe and changing our way of life forever. And on that basis, the arrival of Netflix’s Sweet Tooth – which follows a world 10 years after “The Sick” wiped out swathes of humanity and regressed society to a more primitive state, with survivors taking temperature checks and wearing personalised face-masks – could be a less than appealing prospect.
But Sweet Tooth tells a different – and much odder – story than first appears, taken from Jeff Lemire’s popular DC comic of the same name. You see, around the same time that the disease started ravaging the world, strange “hybrids” were born to humanity, babies crossed with animals that seemed to have resistance to the disease but were blamed for its arrival.
One of those children was plucky deer-boy Gus (Christian Convery), who we’re introduced to as he grows up in the woods in Yellowstone National Park, isolated from others while his “pubba” (Will Forte) lectures him about the dangers of the outside world.
Apart from his antlers, powerful sense of smell and hearing and night vision Gus is more or less an ordinary boy, liable for mischief and exploration – and those impulses eventually lead him to leave safety behind, exploring the wider world alongside the hulking Jep (Nonso Anozie), a reluctant protector with a dark past.
It’s a classic grizzled old fighter/plucky young kid story in the vein of True Grit, The Last of Us, The Mandalorian and Logan, essentially, with Jep and Gus getting into scrapes across the country as they tangle with the nefarious hybrid-hunting “last men,” find other pockets of survivors and even gangs of children who dress as animals to build a Lord of the Flies-esque society.
Elsewhere we also follow other characters – Adeel Akhtar’s troubled surburban doctor Aditya Singh and Dania Ramirez’s Aimee chief among them, both of whom have their own interests in hybrids – while the state of this new world is gradually revealed, a Mad Max society choked by lush, overgrowing scenery.
Sometimes Sweet Tooth can drag, and not every storyline is as interesting as others – notably, the first episode is a lot of set-up that could probably have been dispensed with more quickly – but once the story gets going it’s quite compelling, and Gus makes for a winning (if sometimes slightly too precocious) protagonist.
Through it all, the chemistry between Convery and Anozie within the Sweet Tooth cast keeps the story ticking along. The central partnership between these two is the key selling point of the show, bringing a sense of sweetness and sentiment that buoys the occasionally dark subject matter. It stops Sweet Tooth from being just another grim apocalypse drama, and turns it into something else – a twisted fairytale about hope, dreams and a strange deer-boy living in the forest.
Whether this fairy tale has a happy ending is less clear – only four episodes were available to view at time of writing – but I’ll be interested to see how it turns out. If nothing else, we can all take some inspiration from the natty face-masks everyone seems to be wearing in episode two.
First published on 26th May, 2021