Netflix’s Sweet Tooth is Bambi meets The Last of Us. It inserts adorable animal characters into an increasingly harrowing world, where the skin of civilization is being pulled back by the nails of abnormality. This is a world unmade by a respiratory disease, while simultaneously reeling from the sudden births of hybrid children: half-human, half-animal. Amid this chaos, we meet the titular sweet tooth, Gus (Christian Convery), a half-deer boy. Raised in isolation in Yellowstone National Park, Gus found himself alone and hunted. With the help of a reluctant protector, Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), a mountain of a man carrying an equal amount of weight on his shoulders, and a terrifying teen named Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), Gus journeys across postapocalyptic America to find his mother.
Season 1 ended when they finally found her house but not Gus’ mother herself. The small group was separated, with Tommy shot, Gus kidnapped by a bloodthirsty army called The Last Men, and Bear trying to find them. Aimee (Dania Ramirez), a woman who acquired a zoo and protected orphaned hybrids, lost her home to The Last Men — and her children were all captured. We also briefly met Gus’ mom, Birdie, in an icy location. There was also the almost-sacrifice of the Singhs, Aditya (Adeel Akhtar) and Rani (Aliza Vellani), before The Last Men saved them. Aditya is a talented but broken doctor trying to find a cure for the virus that has mutated, becoming more deadly.
Season 2 sees everyone fighting back from their various trappings: Gus from the prison he’s being held in; Tommy from his past; and Aditya from his failures. While season 1 was a road trip, allowing for diverse locations, characters, and subsequent conflicts, season 2 is itself a trapping. Viewers, like the hybrid kids, are stuck in the now-conquered zoo that has become a base for The Last Men. Metal, concrete, and jail bars dominate the view for this season, making a dull impact visually, with little alleviation until the final episodes.
It feels very much like the infamous second season of The Walking Dead, where we, like the survivors, were stuck on a farm. Talk about dragging your feet.
The season also suffers somewhat from an issue I had with the first: it tries to do too much and, at the same time, too little. It wants to be a story about mutant children with powers but also one about journeying in a postapocalyptic world. At the same time, it’s about how far a man will go to find a cure, including breaking his marriage. There are conflicts between various army-like factions that are hinted at and barely developed. It’s also trying to be a virus story, as we are increasingly discovering its true origins.
It’s not impossible for one show to play with lots of ideas well — Battlestar Galactica is a brilliant example of this — but Sweet Tooth’s writers struggle to do so. Just as you are becoming invested in a particular thread, you are yanked away: flashbacks, meetings with people we’ve never met before, shifting alliances that come out of nowhere. Not letting us hold onto a thread, in addition to the dullness of a single location, made the initial episodes somewhat of a slog.
Sweet Tooth’s second season frustrated me, even if it did eventually move me.
The hybrid kids are adorable, tough, and smart. Led by unofficial big sister Wendy (Naledi Murray), a hybrid pig, this charming group includes an elephant, a turtle, and a skunk. But by far the cutest is a little groundhog hybrid, Bobby, who I would officially die for. I wish we got to see more of their smarts, using their abilities and relying on each other. Instead, like us, they are stuck in the prison and only begin showing their skills and interactions during the later episodes.
Aside from the main villain, every performer outdid themselves. Anozie plays the grumpy Tommy, shedding his armor and growing in his love for Gus. I am always wary of unjustifiably cheery children, but Convery plays Gus to perfection. He’s wide-eyed and optimistic but also brave, defiant, and fiercely loyal.
This season also gave more room for Aimee. The loss of her children makes fierce fuel for her drive, her maternal spikes coming out when anyone threatens them. She had no ties to Tommy and Gus in season 1, but she saves Tommy, and they make a perfect parental duo, hatching a plan to save their cute kids. Aditya becomes more broken this season as Abbott, the leader of The Last Men, forces him to find a cure.
Abbott, played by fellow South African Neil Sandilands, is an odd villain. He appears an omnipresent threat, with an army that can tear through mountains. Yet, his posturing was always unmoored. I could never understand his motivations or goals: he seemed more like an oppositional story device waiting to be a character than a fully fleshed-out person. He was loud, boastful, and egotistical but also very boring. He was neither threatening nor interesting. (I also struggled with his South African accent since I know it so well — but it made little sense when his brother is fully American.)
Season 2, in the end, was a lot of hot air, doing little initially to raise the stakes. Though, in the final episodes, I was often teary due to the lovely main cast and their relationships, it was a struggle to get there. Thankfully, the end of season 2 hints at a long journey for the characters we have come to know and love. Hopefully a return to road trip will provide the much-needed variation on plots and people that was quite missing from this season.
Sweet Tooth season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.