When you imagine the post-apocalypse in your head, hellish images of “Crazy Max, “”the Walking Dead, “”Children of men,” and “SnowpiercerAre often evoked. Decimated buildings, endless war among survivors and grubby people in clothes stained with sweat, dirt and blood; It is a cruel environment that dogs will always eat each other. In Netflixs new, heartfelt, extremely entertaining fairy tale series “Sweet toothThe post-apocalypse is refreshingly less inhospitable and boring. While it’s definitely not a fun utopia, it’s an antidote to the Grimdark worlds we normally see in the apocalyptic fantasy, and one that’s full of love, hope, beauty, and, well, sweet treats.
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“Sweet Tooth” is less “Mad Max” than more “Pinocchio“Because the episodes are ended by a pitch-perfect narrative of the book James Brolinand introduces you to the world of Gus and his journey to find family and acceptance. Gus (Christian convery) is not a typical human boy. In fact, he’s not even entirely human. Like so many children his age, he is a deer-human hybrid who was born just as the world was experiencing a global pandemic that threatened to wipe out humanity. Were the animal hybrid children the cause of the plague? Or did the plague cause the hybrids to be born? Nobody knows, but the fear of these children and the deadly virus leads to the downfall of society when people start destroying one another over these insecurities. And in the face of impending doom, Gus’ father (Will Forte), affectionately known as Pubba by the stag boy, takes his young son with him and ventures into the depths of the forest to escape the evils of mankind and raise his unique child in a world free of evil and unspeakable horrors.
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However, like all good things, this peaceful, nature-filled existence ends. Now Gus is a cute 10 year old boy and forced to venture beyond the Eden frontier created by Pubba and experience the real world. And maybe even discover how a young stag cub can be the key to bringing society back to its former glory. That’s a huge responsibility for a little boy who craves love for family and his next sugar fix – an attribute that leads to a character nicknamed him Sweet Tooth.
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That tone and story takes up much of the pilot of “Sweet Tooth,” the new series created, co-written and directed by Jim Mickle (who works with Beth Schwartz about writing and developing), and is probably the best hour of television all year, period. Each frame is filled with love and heart as we are introduced to this beautiful relationship between a boy and his father. As an introduction to this adorable cast of characters and a story of deep relationships between people and the length it takes for them to feel accepted and loved, Episode 1 of “Sweet Tooth” is an absolute delight. And while the remaining seven episodes never reach the cheer of the pilot’s final scene, each chapter of Sweet Tooth continues to flesh out a show that is a hopeful post-apocalyptic story that a post-COVID world desperately needs.
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Though Mickle brings stunning imagery to the series – the post-apocalypse never looked so lush and green – “Sweet Tooth” is a story that is 100% about characters and the emotional connections they make. From the relationship between Gus and Pubba to the young stag boy’s bonds with Tommy Jepperd (Nonso anozie), also known as Big Man, and Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), the journey that every character on the series takes is filled with emotional stakes and resolutions that will see viewers crying out to their own loved ones as the credits roll in. Human interaction isn’t just a happy day and blue sky, however. And it is in the complexity of human emotions that allows “Sweet Tooth” to rise from a sugar-sweet distraction to a sense of well-being and become a surprisingly mature, impactful series.
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Outside of Gus and his cadre of benefactors, “Sweet Tooth” isn’t afraid to reveal the bitter truths of the post-apocalypse. There is still an army of people called The Last Men, led by a cheerfully evil General Abbot (Neil Sandilands) that is on the lookout for hybrid children that can be used for experimentation or just for extermination. And Abbot, who appears to have no emotional connection with anyone other than himself, uses love and optimism as a weapon against his enemies, especially in the case of Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife Rani (Aliza Vellani) who are placed in the unenviable position of developing a cure for a flu-like virus that wiped out millions and yet threatens people every day. Moral questions abound as Dr. Singh has to expect what he is willing to do to help humanity and his own family, with no clear right or wrong answers.
Unfortunately, even the best fairy tales have flaws. The first season focuses on seemingly different stories of different characters in this post-apocalypse (Dania Ramirez’S Aimee is a good example) that isn’t fully tied into the main narrative. And as the series progresses, revelations threaten the limits of your lifting of disbelief. That said, if this enchanting, magical world pulls you under its spell, these convenience and abbreviations are easy to forgive.
Ultimately, “Sweet Tooth” is the post-COVID series about a pandemic-filled post-apocalypse the world needs right now (and it never shies away from showing lots of pandemic-related images of disinfection, mask wearing, etc.). The series shows how “family” has multiple, complex meanings and offers an interesting juxtaposition of empathy and hostility. There’s a sweet sincerity that is hard to beat too – like watching a boy with antlers discover the joy of sour gums – and daring to make fun of himself and be cynical. “Sweet Tooth” shows that even in a world full of terrible, hateful people, deadly viruses, and violence, you can still enjoy your family relationships and the bonds you develop with those you may least expect. Thanks Gus and the “weird deer shit” you do. [A]
“Sweet Tooth” debuts on Netflix June 4th.