With the planet struck by a killer virus, Gus (Christian Convery), a half human, half deer hybrid, has grown up in a secluded forest. When he meets ex-US football player, now loner Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), the pair form an uneasy alliance and head into the wider world to find Gus’ family.

“Mad Max meets Bambi” is the perfect logline for Sweet Tooth. Co-created by Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Cold In July) and Beth Schwartz (Legends Of Tomorrow, Arrow), it’s a post-apocalyptic fairy tale, based on the Jeff Lemire DC/Vertigo comic book series that debuted in 2009, that combines some of Mickle’s harder horror edges with moments of Spielbergian-style charm and wonder. The result plays in a familiar dystopian sandpit (well, forest), but does a nifty job of satisfying both child-like and grown-up instincts.

Sweet Tooth

The backstory to the world is economically sketched in a Raising Arizona-y prologue. A virus — The Great Crumble — has swept the world, alongside the unexplained emergence of hybrids born part human, part animal. Whether the hybrids caused the virus or vice versa is “one of the great mysteries of the 20th century”, so humans, driven by fear, start hunting them down. Living in the woods, Gus (Christian Convery), aka Sweet Tooth, a ten-year-old half boy-half deer who, unusually for a hybrid, has the capacity to talk (which is handy for exposition) picks up with a loner, Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), and begins a trek across the wilderness. A second plot-line concerns Dr Singh (Adeel Akhtar), a scientist who is put in charge of finding a cure for the virus, a task that is particularly personal as his wife Rani (Aliza Vellani) is showing symptoms. A third (lesser) strand follows white-collar worker Aimee (Dania Ramirez), who after barricading herself in the office following The Great Crumble holes up in an abandoned zoo and finds herself with a different kind of responsibility.

The show started shooting in New Zealand during 2019 and was shut down by the pandemic, giving a story about life during a virus an extra resonance. The sense of distrust and tension around Dr Singh’s neighbourhood is palpable (look out for blood tests à la John Carpenter’s The Thing), the community’s approach to dealing with new virus cases particularly brutal. But the show’s heart lies in the Gus-Jepperd through-line. Mickle played with a newbie-paired-with-a-grizzled-veteran dynamic in Stake Land and the relationship between Gus and Jepperd — whom Gus refers to as ‘Big Man’ — is neatly evinced without any sentimentality: Convery is a natural, likeable presence and Anozie gives Jepperd a ruthlessness, a tough streak masking a bruised humanity. Their adventures, be it finding refuge offering something like normal family life (Gus’ discovery of funk music is a delight), or a run-in with the Animal Army, a teen band of eco-warriors who protect Gus but become suspicious of Jepperd’s motives, are by turns enchanting and exciting.

It’s a show with a strong visual sense — great images include Aimee surrounded by elephants barrelling down a city street, or a death by bucking horse — and things to say about man’s relationship to the environment, and the need to find family where you can, all seasoned with offbeat humour (episode titles include ‘Sorry About All The Dead People’ and ‘Weird Deer Shit’). Films and TV shows as metaphors for the pandemic are quickly becoming ubiquitous. It’s just as well Sweet Tooth is a strong one.

Fittingly switching between sweetness and bite, Sweet Tooth is a children’s fable fit for grown-ups. It’s not startlingly original but is buoyed by affecting chemistry between Christian Convery and Nonso Anozie.

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