It’s barely June, and already we have a contender for best new series of the year – in the form of Netflix’s comic adaptation Sweet Tooth. With strong parallels to our own reality, this post-apocalyptic fairy tale is equal parts charming and powerful.
Based on the DC comic created by Jeff Lemire, and showrun by Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz, Sweet Tooth’s premise centres on “The Great Crumble,” a complete societal collapse caused by a mysterious, massively contagious, and deadly virus. At the same time, babies born part human and part animal emerge, and these hybrids have been scapegoated by many as the cause of “the Sick”. No one really knows which came first – the pandemic or the hybrids – or even if they’re related.
As Sweet Tooth’s narrator (James Brolin) says, some stories start at the beginning. The new Netflix series starts, for us, when we meet young hybrid Gus (Christian Convery) and his dad, Pubba (Will Forte) living in a cabin in Yellowstone National Park. After a decade hidden away from all other humans, our deer-boy protagonist is forced to leave his safe haven and, in doing so, unexpectedly befriends a wandering loner named Jepperd (Nonso Anozie).
Together (and very unwillingly, on Jeppard’s part), the pair set out on an adventure across what’s left of America. Gus is searching for answers about his parentage, while Jepperd is running from his past.
The most compelling part of Sweet Tooth is the central “odd-couple” dynamic between “Sweet Tooth” Gus and “Big Man” Jeppard. Convery plays Gus as a naïve, starry-eyed kid, reacting to his new adventures with wonder and delight. There are also moments of darkness as harsh experiences force him to grow up, but Gus maintains a level of optimism that only a child (and maybe Paddington Bear) can achieve. Convery pulls it all off without coming across as obnoxious.
On the same journey, in the opposite direction, Anozie’s gruff, survivalist Jeppard starts to open up about his previous poor decisions. Anonzie maintains a stoic exterior, giving the impression of a character who learned long ago never to trust, and do whatever it takes to survive – while gradually allowing for little cracks to appear in his emotional armour as the journey continues.
With everything that’s been happening across the globe since early 2020, the whole pandemic storyline hits incredibly close to home. Possibly too close, for some. There are moments that anyone would recognise, and Sweet Tooth leans hard into connecting with us as an audience on this level. “The Sick” comes in waves, social distancing is in effect, and there’s temperature taking and near-ubiquitous mask-wearing among strangers. At one point, our heroes even enter a train carriage stocked to the brim with hand sanitiser and toilet paper.
The larger social issues we’ve witnessed over the last year are also present, starting with irrational fears that abound when the virus starts to reach pandemic proportions and how easily people lose their way. It might be a little on the nose, but we also get to see conspiracy theorists and fake news in action.
Alongside Gus and Jeppard, we encounter a heavily armed militia of (mostly white) men living in denial, clinging to the past and exerting their power however they can. They’re marshalled by General Abbot, played by South African Neil Sandilands. There’s also an outspoken, strong-willed army of teenage environmental activists out to protect the hybrids and take back the earth, led by Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), a young woman not unlike Great Thunberg.
All of this plays out against a visually stunning backdrop. Instead of the dusty wastelands you normally get whenever “post-apocalypse” is mentioned, we’re treated to sweeping landscapes of verdant greenery as nature reclaims the world. Buildings and roads stand where they always stood, covered in ivy and grass, while wild plants reclaim the rusted hulks of abandoned cars. Though broken, society does manage to limp along in small ways, with markets and alternative currencies existing alongside gated communities that function on solar power and bottled water.
Like other Netflix adaptations, Sweet Tooth jumps in a non-linear manner across time and space, to focus on different, soon-to-be-interwoven stories and characters. Unlike other adaptations, though, the series feels far more constrained, and therefore easy to follow from the start. There’s only a handful of important plot threads to track, and viewers don’t have to contend with a massive cast of characters who may or may not be important further down the line.
That said, “further down the line” is clearly a big concern for Sweet Tooth. Fans will be holding thumbs for a second season given the long build-up and cliff-hanger ending of Season One. Just as characters and plot threads come together (there are at least two we haven’t even touched on here), the eight-episode series ends. It’s not unsatisfying, but it is a set-up for something more.
Should Sweet Tooth be cancelled after a single season, audiences will be criminally left without answers and proper resolution. That outcome seems unlikely though as it’s hard not to fall in love with the show, which satisfies on so many different levels.
Last Updated: June 3, 2021