Sweet Tooth has a lot of competition in the category of shows about the viral apocalypse that have come out since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it lacks the poetic beauty of Station Eleven or the incredible cast and high-budget quality of The Last of Us (both on HBO/Max). Yet Netflix’s loose adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s comic book series of the same name continues to make a case for itself in its second season as a sweet fairy tale about the power of family and the need to accept change and loss.
Picking up right where season 1 left off, the new eight-episode story sees Gus (Christian Convery) held in captivity with other human-animal hybrids by the megalomaniacal General Abbott (Neil Sandilands) who believes the children hold the key to a cure for the flu that has wiped out 98% of humanity. Plenty of characters die this season, but one of the most emotional losses comes from watching Abbott’s men tear down the colorful, cheerful preserve for hybrids built by Aimee Eden (Dania Ramirez) and her adopted pig girl daughter Wendy (Naledi Murray), so they can turn it into a bleak prison for the children it was meant to protect.
Season 2 does a remarkably good job of building up its supporting characters without undermining its protagonists. Gus remains the charming beacon of innocence at the heart of the show even as the world around him darkens, but he’s well matched by Wendy, who takes on the role of leader of the rest of the hybrids in her mom’s absence. Abbott felt like a caricature in the style of Doctor Robotnik in season 1, and while he remains an over-the-top weirdo, this season provides more room for Sandilands to show off the skill playing nuanced and compelling villains he demonstrated on The Flash.
Becky aka Bear remains a highlight of the series for her wry wit and raw physicality.
Aimee and Gus’ dedicated protector Tommy Jepperd, aka Big Man (Nonso Anozie) unsurprisingly make a dynamic duo now that their plots have finally come together, stubbornly disagreeing on the best way to help their kids and who they can trust with the task. Becky aka Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), the fierce leader of an army of teens dedicated to defending hybrids, remains a highlight of the series for her wry wit and raw physicality, even if her dialogue sometimes feels lackluster stacked against the more nuanced view of teen witnesses to the end of the world presented in Station Eleven.
But the most improved arcs go to Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife Rani Singh (Aliza Vellani). Working through the early days of the outbreak in season 1, Aditya was struck with such terrible compassion fatigue that he swore off medicine until he was forced back into practicing to keep Rani from dying of the disease. As Abbott drives Singh past the point of exhaustion and medical ethics, Akhtar brilliantly portrays his rapid descent into madness with the help of dark circles under his eyes and increasingly disheveled clothing to complete the transformation. Watching her husband’s motives change from saving her to helping Abbott with his grandiose plans, Rani begins taking some agency for herself by seeking to better understand the hybrids and the allegiances of Abbott’s followers.
Sweet Tooth continues to show an admirable commitment to practical effects.
Sweet Tooth continues to show an admirable commitment to practical effects as it spends significantly more time with its cast of hybrids this season. The cuteness of all these characters, from the puppet used for the clever groundhog-boy Bobby to the shell and flipper-like hands given to a shy turtle boy, make the characters immediately endearing and drive home the monstrousness of Abbott and his followers, who would kill them to make a “secret sauce” used in the treatment for the disease dubbed “the Sick.”
Sweet Tooth Season 2 Images
Season 2 of the show is significantly more family-friendly than the comic it’s based on, though there still sometimes feels like there’s a disconnect between the Home Alone-style antics the kids come up with to try to escape their captors and the plot that involves child murder – even if it is obfuscated by having the victims be mostly reptilian. Information is often conveyed clumsily in ways that don’t stand up to much scrutiny, like characters divulging secret locations when they should know they could easily be overheard, or inexplicably being able to recite the name of a place they last saw as an infant.
Sweet Tooth is a bit too concerned with setting up for future seasons.
Sweet Tooth also continues to be a bit too concerned with setting up for future seasons. Abbott spends a lot of time orchestrating meetings with his rival warlords, only for the story to quickly move on. Those scenes were clearly there just so one of the characters can be set up as a new villain, and yet the Texan stereotype who was elevated to that status in the last scenes of the season finale isn’t even the best of the potential new antagonists introduced. The brief appearance of a cult that believes the hybrids are alien invaders was a far more entertaining addition to the show.
Yet Sweet Tooth works as a fairy tale about the trauma of global change that continues to feel highly relevant in these uncertain times. It’s a particularly strong metaphor for the conflict between young climate activists and the adults they believe are sacrificing the future to maintain their present comfort, given that the heroes of Sweet Tooth are the adults who acknowledge that they must make way for the hybrid children to inherit the Earth.
Abbott, meanwhile, represents regressive ideology, promising not only a return to the time before the Sick but to an idealized past that never really existed. Apparently his army consists of soldiers, personal tailors for his elaborate outfits, and graphic designers who produce his ‘50s-style propaganda posters, but if you don’t think too hard about how they were made the imagery is highly evocative. His vision of suburban security for his chosen few, a callback to the tidy nightmare the Singhs lived in during season 1, is the dark alternative to the natural beauty this show revels in. The sweeping shots of forests, mountains, and recovered animal populations are accented with a folk-heavy soundtrack, with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” used for particularly heart-wrenching effect.
Sweet Tooth isn’t the best show that’s explored the aftermath of a devastating pandemic in recent years, but it offers a good second season that lets its characters continue to grow and shine. The plot and tone don’t always make sense, but the strong emotional core and well-executed themes produce a charming look at how to gracefully handle change.