Netflix has made adapting comic books into live-action series their thing. But while the others have been focused on superheroes, for the most part, Netflix’s Original Sweet Tooth is beyond different from the rest of their catalog. Based on the series of the same name, which is published by DC Comics now-defunct imprint Vertigo Comics and written by Jeff Lemire, Sweet Tooth is produced by Team Downey and Warner Bros. Television and comes from showrunners Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz. Taking audiences into a post-apocalyptic world where this series embraces practical effects work and pushes forward a theme of resiliency and family.
Sweet Tooth stars Christian Convery, Nonso Anozie, Adeel Akhtar, Dania Ramirez, Will Forte, Stefania LaVie Owen, Naledi Murray, and James Brolin as the voice of the narrator. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the series picks up 10 years after the “The Great Crumble,” a pandemic that wreaked havoc on the world and led to the mysterious emergence of hybrids — babies born part human, part animal. Unsure if hybrids are the cause or result of the virus, many humans fear and hunt them. Some join a paramilitary group known as The Last Men, a ruthless and paranoid group. But the story isn’t about the Great Crumble or the violence of a post-apocalyptic world; no, it’s about a hybrid deer-boy named Gus (Christian Convery), a young hybrid boy called “Sweet Tooth.”
After a decade of living safely in his secluded forest, Gus unexpectedly befriends a wandering loner named Jepperd (Nonso Anozie) when he’s forced to leave the sanctuary of his home. Together they set out on an extraordinary adventure across what’s left of America in search of answers— about Gus’ origins and Jepperd’s past. But in the process, the two develop an understanding of each other that teaches the audience about the true meaning of home and family. While the two are the center of the story, Sweet Tooth also introduces other storylines before converging in the season finale. This makes the series full of unexpected allies and enemies that teach Gus in their own ways about the dangerous world outside the forest.
First things first, watching a series where a catastrophic pandemic has thrown the world into despair, chaos and made people leave behind their humanity is, well, on the nose. While Sweet Tooth was originally published in 2009, the setting, the “Great Crumble” and the human reaction, hits hard in a world currently in its own pandemic. That element helps some of the more salient moments of conflict feel more immersive in the best and uneasy way. That said, Sweet Tooth’s narrative is about finding a home and yourself in people and not places.
As Gus grows and learns the world, so does Jep. At first, Jep is a cynic, a man with a violent past and not looking to be any child’s guardian. His polar opposite, Gus, only knows what his dad told him about the world and is in awe of what is around him that his naivete is front and center. Gus is a child, and Sweet Tooth never loses sight of that. Gus teaches as much as he learns. The way his light shines in the darkest moments of the series allows those around him and pushes the people who come into his story into introspective moments. For Jep, Gus pushes him to allows him space for atonement and to forgive himself. For Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), a teen girl they meet and bring along their journey, Gus shows her how to trust again. How to see Jep differently, how to see the world a little more hopeful — but most importantly, he shows her to reclaim a small piece of her childhood.
All that said, it’s Gus and Jep’s relationship that pushes the show to a new height. Anozie and Convery have an openness and vulnerability that feels real. It’s seen more clearly when Jep interacts with Gus. At first, he’s standoffish and rough. Telling Gus about the world in the bluntest of terms. Then as they travel, Jep softens his words, looks, and even how he physically cares for the young boy. On Gus’s part, the trusting nature that comes from naivete, in the beginning, transforms into implicit care and push back that only comes from children towards family. Jep will never replace his dad, but he can be there for him like one.
Truthfully, I’m not one to like children in series, especially when paired with a strong adult actor, in this case, Anozie. But Convery is emotional, pointed, and he holds his own in all of his scenes. Sure he does the annoying kid thing a few times; you know the plot point where the kid is told to stay put but then leaves. But those small things that annoy me in other films and series don’t bother me here. In fact, those moments of absent-mindedness and trusting are endearing. Gus is a sheltered child, curious, and filled with hope. At times, it feels like Gus is the last bit of hope in the world.
Finally, Sweet Tooth is a tough concept to adapt. Not just because of the subject matter and characters but also because of the amount of special effects work that goes into bringing animal hybrids to life. It’s that note that makes this series all the more striking. Blending practical effects work that looks real and CGI work that is nearly indistinguishable from non-special effects. I was hesitant that the comic could be brought to life, and while the characters aren’t one-hundred percent on the mark, they get as close to it as you can with live-action. With the actors beneath the make-up, mainly children, pushing the prosthetics and other elements to a resounding success. Additionally, the way the series uses narration is sparingly enough to hold weight every time we hear it, with Brolin’s booming voice making bringing even more emotion to moments and setting the tone for each episode.
When all is said and done, Sweet Tooth is a success. It’s a near-perfect adaptation. It’s strong when it comes to effects work, acting, and story. Christian Convery and Nonso Anozie are a phenomenal pair and strong on their own as well. While it does change elements of Lemire’s series, every change has a reason for the larger story of the series, which makes it hard to be mad. That said, Sweet Tooth needs a Season 2 for it this season’s ending to not feel empty.
Sweet Tooth is streaming exclusively on Netflix on June 4, 2021.
When all is said and done, Sweet Tooth is a success. It’s a near-perfect adaptation. It’s strong when it comes to effects work, acting, and story. Christian Convery and Nonso Anozie are a phenomenal pair and strong on their own as well. That said, Sweet Tooth needs a Season 2 for it this season’s ending to not feel empty.