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Sweet Tooth: Virus and victory

Mohammed Rayaan | Updated on June 13, 2021

Charging forth: Christian Convery plays the 11-year-old protagonist, a boy called Gus aka Sweet Tooth, who is half-human, half-deer

Netflix’s new drama is a gripping tale of an infected world filled with children born with animal parts and evil hunters

* The series, based on a comic book by Jeff Lemire, has been produced by Robert Downey Jr (of Iron Man fame) and Susan Downey

* Sweet Tooth narrates a story of virus, violence, chaos and innocence

* The cast, visuals and background score amp up the show

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Before the pandemic, a dystopian film or TV series involving a virus was often treated as a bit far-fetched. But in Covid-19 times, everything seems possible. So certain plot elements in Sweet Tooth, now streaming on Netflix, are a little too close to home. Produced by Robert Downey Jr (of Iron Man fame) and Susan Downey, Sweet Tooth is an adaptation of a comic book of the same name by Jeff Lemire.

A virus infects the globe, killing millions and bringing chaos to societal order. The great crumble, as it is called, leads to the birth of “hybrid” children — born with an animal part. Some, for instance, have wings; some have porcupine needles, some look like cats.

Sweet Tooth has three major story arcs that act as the spine of the plot. With the able narration of James Brolin and powerful background music by Jeff Grace, it speaks of hope, disaster and love. A vital theme of this show is the depiction of the love of a parent for a child.

The hero of this story is an 11-year-old boy called Gus aka Sweet Tooth (Christian Convery), half-human, half-deer. The main plot involves Gus stepping out of his secluded home in search of the truth about his missing mother Birdie and the world beyond the gated fence.

But it is not going to be easy. His father Pubba has made him live inside this closed log cabin in Yellowstone National Park. They have been living there for over a decade out of fear of ‘the last men’ — evil gun-wielding militia, led by the mysterious General Abbot — who hunt down hybrids.

The last men and many of the survivors believe that the hybrids had caused the pandemic. Gus is forbidden to go out anywhere. His father even recites for him a warning, “If I see a human”, in a poetic rhythm.

But Gus is a curious child. With ‘Big Man’, a bulky former soccer player called Jeppard (Nonso Anozie), he steps into the unlikeliest of circumstances and eventually learns the truth about the virus and the hybrids.

Two other sub-stories run through the series. One is about a couple — Dr Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife Rani (Aliza Vellani). The other is about Aimee Eden (Dania Ramirez), a strong woman who takes care of the hybrids in a zoo rechristened the “Preserve”.

One of the appealing factors of the show is the production design. Every place where the story is set is built with attention and detail. Take Gus and his Pubba’s home. His father is an excellent craftsman who rebuilds their log house with traps, gardens and fences. Their massive secluded home in the forest evokes a feeling of ease and warmth. The protected house reflects Pubba’s concern for his son.

Aditya and Rani’s house in a gated community of survivors, on the other hand, is deceptively calm. Underneath the beauty of the neatly packed homes and their well-dressed neighbours lurks a sense of fear and tension.

Little details draw attention to the present times. Aditya works at the local clinic. As he enters the crippled old structure with overgrown shrubs and grass, paint peeling off the walls, he passes through a hand sanitiser stand. There are even signboards that say, “6 feet distance”. Our ‘real world’ danger spices up the thrill and suspense on the screen.

There are many such moments. When Rani starts showing symptoms of the deadly virus, they are in a dilemma. Should they attend their neighbour’s party or skip it? If they don’t go, they will suspect us, he warns his wife. The couple attends the party, and the sequence is gripping. It is just a scene of some friends having a drink together, but the camera keeps panning in between Aditya and Rani. Their eyes are tense; their fake smiles betray their true feelings.

When Rani does a ‘high-five’ with one of her friends while playing charades, a drama unfolds. The group quickly “masks up” as the friend starts showing symptoms: His little finger starts shivering controllably. They immediately move away from him, as Aditya takes a sample of his blood.

“We’re all just barbarians with a good haircut,” Aditya says.

Aimee’s story, on the other hand, takes place in the “Preserve”. Her character shares a mother-daughter bond with Wendy, a hybrid girl with a pig nose. The duo soon starts taking care of nearly a dozen other hybrid children. But their abode comes under threat when General Abbot hears about it.

If Abbot is the primary enemy of the hybrids, then the character Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen) is the opposite of what Abbot stands for: Bear and her ragtag team of sword-loving teenagers — the Animal Army — have sworn to protect the hybrids. She joins Gus and Jeppard in their search for Birdie.

The show-runner, Jim Mickle, smartly stitches all loose ends as the episodes progress but still leaves a few plots unanswered, perhaps with the intention of unfolding them in the next season. It starts off as slightly complex as multiple characters are introduced from the pilot up to the third episode.

However, the screenplay is careful in its narrative style as it holds all characters firmly together. The performance of the cast is the winning factor of the series, for the actors get into their character with remarkable ease.

Of all the stars, it is Convery who stands apart. He brings a sense of childhood innocence to his role that favours the character of Gus, who is quiet, curious and playful. Another major plus of the series is the powerful background score that gives an edge to the action and tension.

With season 1 ending on a cliffhanger with several characters facing mortal danger, it’s only a matter of time before Netflix renews this world. Till then, let’s just stay masked up.

Published on June 13, 2021

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