Creators: Jim Mickie, Beth Schwartz
Writers: Jim Mickie, Beth Schwartz, Christina Ham
Directors: Jim Mickie, Toa Fraser, Robyn Grace
Cast: Christian Convery, Nonso Anozie, Stefania LaVie Owen, Dania Ramirez, Adeel Akhtar, Aliza Vellani, Will Forte
Streaming on: Netflix
Films and television have a peculiar fascination with apocalypses and pandemics, something that I never quite understood. As a kid, I was perplexed by Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. What was it about apocalyptic settings that made for good cinematic fodder? Surely you need not have an alien entity pushing a civilisation into ruin to produce good action-thrillers? Last year, I watched Amazon Prime Video’s torturous show Utopia, where civilisation careened out of control as a fictional incarnation of the COVID pandemic hit it. The show didn’t answer my question. Instead, it piqued my curiosity because of how nonsensical its plot was — its portrayal of the pandemic was off-puttingly campy. Sweet Tooth does not provide any satisfying answers either. But its attempt is sincere, which is more than I could have asked for at this point.
The Netflix series, developed with Warner Bros. and DC, is the television equivalent of a theme park — it is lively and vibrant. Here, the world is walloped by a deadly H5G9 virus. People don’t know where this strain emerged from. A pandemic — called “The Sick” — has taken over everyone’s lives. A new breed of species has developed as well, turning every subsequent baby into an animal-human hybrid. Everyone concocts their own conspiracies — some believe that the virus caused these species, others believe that the species caused the virus. It is an existential spin on the ‘chicken or egg’ dilemma.
The story is set a decade after the pandemic first struck. There are armies of survivors with their own missions — one wants to eradicate all hybrid children and another wants to protect them. The show is hobbled by this moral binary. It never rises beyond, but it is never bogged down by the simplicity of it all either. In the middle of this is a 10-year-old Gus (a loveable Christian Convery), a human-deer hybrid with antlers and protruding, furry ears. He’s a soft-hearted kid who binges on chocolates and candies, commodities so rare that a terrorising group of men transport it on chartered trains to make money. His arc is the most affectionate of them all — there’s an overpowering, often sentimental, sense of hope in his determined search for his mother.
His adult protector, a former football star Jepperd (a towering Nonso Anozie), often lands into trouble when entertaining the kid’s hijinks. When Gus loses his only toy, Jepperd has to go retrieve it by wrestling his way through a few bad men. Hope, in this universe, is fatal. But it is what makes Gus and Jepperd resilient amid the adversities around them. It also forces Jepperd to shed his jaded, lone wolf persona.
The series often runs the risk of devolving into a child-pandering, saccharine saga of adventures. But it is smarter than that. The elaborate world-building, its seamless transition from one subplot to another, all, allow for a sprawling display of television. It does not carry too much weight — neither does it concern itself with the gruesome realities of a ravaged world nor does it attempt empty philosophy. It remains simple, enough to engross viewers while simultaneously mirroring some aspects of the ongoing pandemic. We see tribes of people with dogmatic and unfounded beliefs, scarce resources, and even a distinct sense of loneliness that would otherwise have deterred Jepperd and Gus from embarking on their quest.
Circling back to the question I asked, there are still no easy answers. But in the case of Sweet Tooth — a coincidentally fitting title given that the comic book this show is based on released years ago — it makes our reality a tad more palatable. It provides a form of emotional hospice, allowing the viewers to revel in the show’s dreamlike aura.