REVIEW: Netflix’s Sweet Tooth Brings Tender Warmth to a Dystopian Future
4/5 chocolate bars.
After spending more than a year living through a global pandemic, audiences still cannot get enough of stories set in dystopian futures. From A Quiet Place Part II to The Handmaid’s Tale to The Walking Dead and its myriad spinoffs, Hollywood keeps churning out grim futures filled with theocratic despots, bloodthirsty humans, and endless burning trash barrels dotting a shadowy, war-torn cityscape.
Into this oversaturated genre steps Sweet Tooth, Netflix’s gentle adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s DC comic book series. The series, executive produced by Susan and Robert Downey Jr., takes place 10 years after “The Great Crumble” where a highly contagious plague known as “the Sick” decimated the world’s population. At the same time that the Sick was ravaging the world, all babies were mysteriously born as human-animal hybrids. The question of which came first, the Sick or the hybrids, and what connection (if any) exists between them is at the center of the series.
As humanity blames the hybrids for the plague and starts hunting hybrid children, a father (Will Forte) hides deep in the forest of Yellowstone National Park with his hybrid deer baby. Gus (Christian Convery), who sports antlers and deer ears, grows up with only his father, living off the land and remaining out of sight from any other humans. We follow Gus’s idyllic yet isolated childhood, frolicking through the forest as the world outside crumbles around them. But as Gus turns 10, his Walden-like existence is shattered when an armed group of militia men come a-hunting.
Gus quickly teams up with the big, brooding Tommy Jepperd (Game of Thrones‘ Nonso Anozie) a lone warrior and former football star with his own dark past who saves Gus from poachers. Together, the unlikely duo set out on a journey to Colorado to find Gus’s long-lost mother Birdie, encountering danger, adventure, and kindness on the way.
A series that begins with a global pandemic may be too much too soon for many viewers, and understandably so. The pilot for Sweet Tooth was filmed pre-pandemic in May and June of 2019, and weirdly predicts pandemic behavior we’ve become accustomed to, like masks, temperature checks, and hand sanitizer stations. The series continued filming in New Zealand and, thanks to the country’s aggressive health orders, didn’t endure the same struggles as almost every other production made in the past year.
Perhaps it is this unique experience, filming in the only safe country in the world during a global pandemic, that lends Sweet Tooth its earnest optimism. While Sweet Tooth doesn’t ignore the death and destruction brought on by its dystopian future, the tone is warm and tender. The series eschews the seemingly mandatory desaturated color palette for bright, lush natural vistas. And the show has whimsy to spare, from the painfully cute hybrid infants to the folksy narration provided by Josh Brolin. Part fairy tale and part fable, the series trades the genre’s requisite nihilism for compassion and empathy in a refreshing change of pace.
It’s a novel idea, to reimagine the apocalypse as a family-friendly adventure in the vein of Huckleberry Finn and Bridge to Terabithia. And its anchored by a terrific performance from Convery, who infuses Gus with childlike wonder and a deep well of empathy. Anozie also shines as Jep, and the series does a great job of toeing the line between being sweet and cynical.
It’s a welcome antidote to the relentlessly grim worlds of shows like The Walking Dead and Amazon’s Utopia that focus on man’s cruelty. And while Sweet Tooth builds a dangerous world for children like Gus, it never loses sight of its humanity. Optimism in the midst of a dystopia? What a concept.
Have you watched Sweet Tooth yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
(image: KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX)
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