When considering all the different genres to blend with a post-apocalyptic story, a fairy-tale isn’t necessarily the first category that springs to mind. This combination is the first of many contrasting dualities of Netflix’s Sweet Tooth, which effectively combines the grueling dystopia of The Road with Spielberg-ian moments of sweetness and awe. The resulting series, which premiered on June 4, isn’t a radical reinvention of the genres that inspired it but executes its unique combination in a fun and loving way.
Adapted from writer/artist Jeff Lemire’s 2009 comic book series by Jim Mickle (Cold in July, Hap and Leonard) and Beth Schwartz (Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow), Sweet Tooth details (via narration from Josh Brolin in a voicework performance that feels like John Goodman mixed with Sam Elliott) the new world order in the aftermath of a virus (more on this shortly) known as “The Great Crumble.” As the sickness wreaks havoc on the adult population, the children born in its wake inexplicably start to feature both human and animal characteristics and are thusly dubbed “hybrids.” In a real chicken or the egg situation, there’s uncertainty over whether the virus caused the hybrids or vice versa. Still, there’s enough panic over the newborns and the role they may or may not have played that the hybrids quickly become prey to those remaining humans.
One of the first of these children is Gus (Christian Convery); half-deer and half-human with a love of sweet treats, Gus is taken by his father (a fantastic Will Forte) deep into the heart of Yellowstone National Park to live a life far away from humanity. Like many fairy tales, the real world can only be kept at bay for so long, so it’s just a matter of time before Gus departs his sanctuary in search of his mother (Amy Seimetz). He quickly learns of the harsh reality facing his odyssey by encountering a group of poachers, only to be saved by Jepperd (Nonso Anozie, who Game of Thrones fans will recognize as charismatic pirate Xaro Xhoan Daxos). The burly “Big Man” then reluctantly decides to help Gus.
While the Gus/Jepperd tale is the primary center of Sweet Tooth, the series does focus on two other plots. One involves Aimee (Dania Ramirez), who sets up a preserve in an abandoned zoo for orphaned hybrids seeking shelter. Aimee’s arc is less developed throughout the season but manages to find moments of tenderness as the relationship between her and her adopted hybrid daughter Wendy grows. The other is oriented around Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife Rani (Aliza Vellani), the latter of whom is still fighting the virus. It’s easy to draw several pandemic-related real-life parallels when watching the Singh narrative, making it a tough pill to swallow at times; I wish Netflix pushed the series until the traumatizing events of the last year and a half or so didn’t feel so fresh in our minds. Nevertheless, both tales are supplementary to Gus and Jepperd’s journey, even as all three strands start to intertwine towards the end of the show’s eight episodes.
And the story of Sweet Tooth really is all about the relationship between Gus and Jepperd. Even as Mickle and Schwartz rework or expand upon Lemire’s original comic, this core dynamic serves as the beating heart of the show. Their relationship is emotional without ever feeling saccharine. In the hands of a lesser actor, the (literal!) doe-eyed wonder of Gus could feel annoying, but Convery plays Gus as child-like instead of childish. Meanwhile, Anozie conveys a depth of sadness in the physicality of Jepperd, effortlessly translating the wounded humanity under his battle-hardened exterior. It helps to have a few standalone episodes in the early goings of the series to flesh out their connection before the midpoint of the season. Once there, Sweet Tooth kicks into high gear, finding another level as the show begins to circle the wagons on its tale, continuing to balance light and dark moments in equal measure.
If Sweet Tooth wasn’t on your radar before, it should be now. The unconventional and contrasting dualities are what make the series sing, despite a slight stumble. Whether it’s the unusual partnership between Gus and Jepperd, the harsh realities of a ravaged dystopia merging with the sweetness of a fairy tale, or the hybrids so crucial to the new world order, mixing and matching creates two great tastes that taste great together—resulting in a sweet treat you’ll love.