SWEET TOOTH is a new series from Netflix, based on the DC Comic series of the same name written by Jeff Lemire. The series stars Nonso Anozie (Tommy Jepperd), Christian Convery (Gus), Adeel Akhtar (Dr. Aditya Singh), Stefania LaVie Owen (Bear), Dania Ramirez (Aimee Eden), Aliza Vellani (Rani Singh), Neil Sandilands (General Abbot), with James Brolin (Narrator) and Will Forte (Father/Pubba). Jim Mickle (Stakeland, Cold In July) serves as co-showrunner with Beth Schwartz (Arrow, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) and the series is produced by Team Downey: Susan Downey, Robert Downey Jr., and Amanda Burrell.
SWEET TOOTH is the story of a young hybrid boy named Gus, part animal and part human, who wants to find out where he came from and the people he meets on his journey amidst the collapse of the world from a deadly virus.
In eight episodes, the series has managed to tell a compelling and meaningful story that seems prophetic in certain ways to our current world. But, as the filmmakers have coined it as a descriptive phrase, it is a storybook dystopia. I agree with that. While it is about a pandemic that threatens to wipe out humanity, it is not as dark and depressing as one would normally expect. Since the series was filmed in New Zealand, the natural beauty of the country is the backdrop rather than a cold and grey wasteland. The emphasis is on the central characters trying to do their best despite the danger and growing as human beings. The stakes are high and the evil of officious men is a counterbalance to that beauty. A new order has risen to perhaps take its place as the dominant species on Earth, but the bad old order isn’t willing to give up without a fight. The idea that Nature might be cleansing the world of a species that has squandered Nature’s gifts is an arresting theme, especially now. There is a subtlety to the terror to The Sick as the virus is commonly named.
In Stakeland, one of the most terrifying moments is when the leader of a safe zone, a good man, is shown from a side view and you can see the vampiric infection coursing through his skin. A similar aesthetic is at work in SWEET TOOTH. The greatest terrors are those that are subtle. There’s no explicit violence. The Sick, as the virus is commonly known, has a small tell that is established early on. The suspense of waiting to see if the tell will betray a character or the reaction of people to the tell is chilling. It’s the kind of horror that is rooted in the audience’s emotional connection to the characters, rather than special effects. Watching neighbors react once someone is othered by The Sick or as a Hybrid, that those quiet and unassuming people instantly change and become dangerous. I don’t think that saran wrap or Auld Lang Syne will ever be quite the same to me.
The characters who choose to protect and guide the Hybrids or seek to find a cure that does not carry a heavy cost are not perfect, but are in their ways working on redeeming their character. Some to right past wrongs and some because they come to love someone who has been othered or both. In particular, Dania Ramirez, as Aimee Eden, and Nonso Anozie, as Tommy Jeppard, have arcs where they are selfish and emotionally constricted and finally find emotional self-expression in caring for and protecting others. One phrase that sticks out is when Jeppard says, “I think the fear was just love I didn’t know what to do with.”. The show talks about the fears everyone has and the lies that we tell others because they are the lies that we first tell ourselves. How much of the world’s troubles and hurt comes from our own inability to really tell and accept the truth to ourselves. It has some valuable things to say about human nature. The main villain of the piece has a look of a stereotypical antagonist, Neil Sandiland as General Abbot, but there is a depth to him as well. None of the characters are cartoons, while you may see a surface view at the first, the show through the actors’ performances, the script, and direction reveals the humanity and complexity of who they are. The show is built on the strongest base, emotional truth, and well-constructed characters and plot.
Everything else, the beautiful cinematography by Aaron Morton (Orphan Black, Black Mirror) of warm tones and lush scenes of green fields and purple flowers and dark nights that still seem warm as dark as they are. The music by Jeff Grace (Stakeland, House of the Devil) and Russell Pollack with ominous strings that mirror marching feet and long-held soaring synthesizer tones and strings that embellish the mood, but don’t overpower it only enhance the solid base of the show. James Brolin’s narration contributes heavily to its graceful storytelling. It’s the rare instance where the narration is a full partner in the story, rather than an afterthought put there to explain things that the script failed to do.
SWEET TOOTH is an uncommonly strong entry into the subgenre of dystopian or apocalyptic fantasy. It achieves this feat by telling a humanistic story about how people face the possibility of extinction and find hope and purpose in service to others and unselfish love.
SWEET TOOTH will arrive exclusively on Netflix on June 4, 2021.
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