From showrunner Jim Mickle comes Sweet Tooth, Netflix‘s adaptation of the comic from Jeff Lemire by the same name. It details an apocalyptical future ten years after a highly contagious and deadly virus ravages the planet and follows our young protagonist, Gus, as he attempts to navigate this fallen world in search of his mother. Oh yeah, and also he’s a half-deer hybrid that a militant group are looking to exterminate. With the virus also came a bizarre phenomena of half-animal hybrids being born to human parents and the animosity against them comes stems from their connection to the deadly disease. It’s this dichotomy that Sweet Tooth uses as its foundation.
Netflix labels Sweet Tooth as “quirky” and “heartfelt” but that undersells the darker nature of the show. It does both- carrying a whimsical tone while also examining the harsh realities of living in an apocalyptic world. Every feel-good moment is balanced against something tragic, so if you’re looking for escapism, you will not find it here. Sweet Tooth is introspective. It says, ‘you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of when it’s for someone you love’, and then unpacks that statement as not only what obstacles people are capable of overcoming when they’re motivated by love, but also what morals they find themselves abandoning out of necessity to protect their loved ones. And Sweet Tooth does a good job of it too.
The show is primarily about Gus’ journey, but also the people directly and indirectly tied to his story. They’re featured in a substantial amount of the show and information is slowly fed to us throughout its runtime about them until everyone’s path intersects. While the pacing feels a bit slow in terms of plot, the character work and thematic building is well worth it. Each character introduced is distinct with different struggles, motivations, and sacrifices they need to make in this new world. Most notably, they are all good people at their core, whether that core becomes clear to them in the apocalyptic world or it becomes obfuscated by what they need to do to survive. This nuance is the primary engaging force of the narrative.
The writing is very strong in regards to the ideas it produces, but since they contrast so heavily and the show still wants to maintain a primarily heartfelt feel, the tone can sometimes be a bit off-putting. Sometimes the darker elements are framed as lighter than they are for the sake of the overall show. This isn’t in all cases, during the cornerstone gritty moments the tone definitely reflects the direness of the situation, but the balance between the light and dark tones could’ve been navigated better holistically.
The worldbuilding of Sweet Tooth is bizarre but simple, and yet it takes full advantage of its fantasy elements to explore larger ideas. Both the hybrids and the virus are reflective of our relationship with nature. The extreme features of the world aren’t merely set up to be plot devises or aesthetic elements, they actively shape the characters’ attitudes and the character’s reactions to the extremities create conflict and depth.
While the narrative is glued together by Gus and he’s the best part of the show. Audiences can be weary of children main characters, but he’s likable without sacrificing the immature faults that are children are guilty of. While all the other characters have lived in a world before the virus, Gus has not. Childish innocence in a bleak world is what drives the heartfelt nature of the show, and without it, Sweet Tooth wouldn’t be much. That isn’t to say that Gus doesn’t struggle or he hasn’t suffered, but his optimism and how it infects others is the heart of the show. Despite others being clued into the harsh realities of the world, they feel the need to protect Gus from it, and it it binds them together as they all can hope for a better future like he does. It’s a found family story, and just the kind that makes you smile.
While sometimes tonally inconsistent, Sweet Tooth excels in other ways. Its strongest aspects are the writing from everything in how the characters are crafted to how the world is constructed and finally how the narrative is delivered. It drags a little and is not for those who are looking for a purely lighthearted show, but for those who enjoy examining the love in pain and light in the darkness, Sweet Tooth is a wonder filled warmhearted journey.