Then, there are a group of kids imprisoned in a cell, planning their escape. First, they need a scheme to get hold of the keys. What tools do they have at their disposal? The floor is dirt, so it stands to reason: the kid who’s half squirrel should dig out. The boy with the lion’s mane, the girl with the pig’s nose, and the little guy who has the full face and trunk of an elephant all agree. The squirrel boy starts chewing on the ground.
Welcome back to the singular world of Sweet Tooth, the dystopian pandemic drama the whole family can enjoy. If you missed Season 1: The world has been ravaged by the Sick, a virus that arose and spread rapidly at the very moment babies started being born in animal form. In the absence of any other explanation, these “hybrids” are seen as dangerous parasites, systematically incarcerated or simply killed by fearful humans. Previously we followed Gus (Christian Convery), a 10-year-old boy with the ears, antlers and senses of a deer, as he traversed a devastated America – at first he was looking for his mother, but recently discovered that no such person exists. . It’s a scientific experiment, done in a laboratory, and could be the key to the history of hybrids and/or the search for a cure for the sick. But first he has to break out of prison.
Season 2 feels, in its first few episodes, more like a kids’ show than ever, albeit with plenty of sly nods to parents to keep them interested. The confinement means that Gus has been separated from Tommy “Big Man” Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), his adoptive father figure and physical protector. “He’d tell me to grow a pair,” Gus tells the pig-nosed girl as he ponders what her friend would say if they were still together. A couple of what, he asks? “I don’t know. He never said that.
When the adults appear, we are reminded that this is a series for older kids only—any viewer younger than Gus would find the violence of the post-Sick world too frightening. Those hybrids are locked up because the flamboyant mercenary General Abbot (Neil Sandilands), a Gaiman-esque visual creation with his bald head, huge gray beard and red-tinted John Lennon specs, wants to experiment on them to help him find a cure. Any tiny inmate taken away by the guards is unlikely to make it back, unless he’s in the shape of a hoof or claw worn around the neck of one of the villains. Not that Abbot does evil science himself, since another of his captives is disease expert Dr. Aditya Singh. Season two gets a sense of greater import from bringing together what, in series one, were disparate storylines: Singh, previously the isolated star of a subplot kept interesting by him played so brilliantly by Adeel Akhtar, now meets Gus, giving them – and us – intriguing new information.
Big Man, meanwhile, is teamed up with Aimee (Dania Ramirez), a former manager of a hybrid shelter that Abbot has now retooled as a prison. Their pairing, one motivated by loss to save the children and the other by guilt, isn’t the only chunk of heavy character drama deftly woven into the grand adventure. When we get to know Johnny (Marlon Williams), Abbot’s ineffectual younger brother, the psychodrama that unfolds over the conflicting siblings bonded by trauma is certainly one for adults.
Aimee and Big Man’s temporary exile in the ordinary outside world brings them into contact with crowds of people who, to Aimee’s bewildered disgust, seem indifferent to a killer virus that is still very much on the loose. This tilt to reality that Sweet Tooth has landed in is a companion to the season 1 scene that furiously took mickey out of anti-vaxxers, but the show is generally too confident in its own world to function as an allegory.
The miracle Sweet Tooth performs is to keep everyone happy. It’s a brutal post-apocalyptic drama that successfully exploits the cute innocence of children, but it’s also a fantasy series grounded in the hardest of truths about what adults can do when times are tough, so it never falls into the trap of feel the viewer as if nothing is real and nothing really matters. Season two deftly unfolds into a showdown with several boldly uncompromising payoffs delivered in a way that its younger viewers can easily appreciate, not least because it tends to be the adults who meet their fate. Sweet Tooth knows that babies, with or without horns, legs or tails, are not to be underestimated.