Whilst the long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are yet to be seen, after watching this dystopian YA drama, we’re just glad that our kids haven’t yet started sprouting antlers and tails.
Because the half-animal half-human kiddos in this series are equal parts cute and downright creepy. Based on the comics by Jeff Lemire and produced by Robert Downey Jr and his wife, Susan, this heartfelt dystopian series is a compelling family watch. That is, if you can stand a story about a virus throwing the world into a state of chaos – here they call this The Great Crumble, which unfortunately isn’t about a delicious, buttery desert, but about a virus called H5G9 sweeping the globe, leaving most of the population dead and the rest in a frenzy. Just to add to the chaos, women are also giving birth to human-animal hybrids, like babies with puppy ears, prickly hedgehog backs, and piglet snouts.
Or, in the case of our protagonist, Gus (Christian Convery), with deer antlers and ears. We enter the story ten years after The Great Crumble, during which time Gus and his father have been hiding out in Yellowstone, learning to live off the land and tap maple trees for syrup – hence the title. However, things don’t say sweet for very long, as the resident bad guys, the Real Men, turn up. They blame these hybrids for the virus and so are on a mission to hunt them into extinction. After his Pa dies trying to defend their home, Gus is left to fend for himself, tagging along with a gruff man named Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie) as they unpick clues left by his dad, which he hopes will lead him to his mother.
Knowing that we’d likely get bored if left to wander the woods for an entire series, they’ve added a couple of background plots going on too, involving Dr Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) who is experimenting on hybrid children hoping to find a cure for the pandemic, and the rather less convincing Aimee who has turned an abandoned zoo into a safe place for the half-human, half-beast kiddies to grow up.
There’s a lot going on in this series which is equal parts fantasy and sci-fi, dystopian and family friendly, and the mood of it is equally mixed – sometimes it’s joyful and heart-warming, others quietly horrifying. And all these pandemic references are a bit close to the bone, particularly the shots of people looking panicked as someone waltzes in without a mask. However, this show is pretty perfect for those parents looking for something to watch with their teenaged kids – with the storyline of survival and adventure, paired up with the gorgeous scenery and a tale of parental love, there’s plenty on offer here in terms of family viewing.
Is it as good as other family friendly treats, like The Durrells, or All Creatures Great and Small? Maybe not. But the added fantasy elements here are sure to captivate young minds.
Critics don’t quite know what to make of this show, which The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan says is “either warmly eccentric or hysterically crazy, perfect entertainment or a horrifying attempt to parlay the pandemic into a commercially palatable mashup.” But in The Telegraph, Anita Singh gives it four stars, saying “children might find it easier viewing than parents. That’s not because it’s childish, but because it features the sorts of things that pluck on parents’ heartstrings.” However, Ben Dowell of The Times isn’t sold, saying this “story clearly designed to speak directly to our present predicament really felt like a lot of things we’ve seen already.”
First shown June 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.