Following the hit and miss nature of Netflix’s most recent comic book adaptation, Mark Miller’s superhero stuffed Jupiter’s Legacy, the streaming service is going for a wholly different approach with their latest property. Gone are the heroic costumes and capes, replaced by a completely unique post-apocalyptic journey filled with optimism, hope and a fairytale twist featuring human-hybrid children. First published by DC’s vertigo imprint back in 2009, the streaming service’s latest adaptation is Jeff Lemire’s beloved Sweet Tooth, with the powerhouse of Robert Downey Jr. and wife Susan Downey executive producing the series.
Created by Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz, Sweet Tooth centres on a divided world following “The Great Crumble” – a virus which decimated the population. Around the same time, mysterious hybrids – babies born part human and part animal, emerged, with many humans linking the cause of the virus to the emergence of these new children. Persecuted out of fear and belief that they caused the virus, ten years on and hybrids are now hiding from society. One such hybrid, deer-boy Gus (Christian Convery) has been living safely in a secluded home in Yellowstone National Park. However, following an unfortunate event, he befriends a lone wonderer Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), and the two set out on an adventure to find Gus’ mother and in search of answers to his origins.
For fans of the original graphic novel, this adaptation does diverge from the source material, with a predominantly more family-friendly tone and new characters. The eight episode series is definitely a lot lighter with a more personal message of hope, which considering the real-life similarities, does feel fitting. The vast and unique coming-of-age narrative features an intriguing mix of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic genres, with dark fairytale and adventure elements as Gus and Big Man go on their quest evading the nefarious “last men” hunters, discovering other survivors and allies along the way.
The tale is hugely compelling thanks to the beautiful central ‘odd-couple’ dynamic reminiscent of The Mandalorian or The Last of Us, with an impressive emotional breadth of storytelling. There’s various plot threads which delve into the mysterious origins of the virus and hybrids, featuring different characters cleverly intertwining throughout. While some are more interesting than others, they all feature the same heartfelt and optimistic message of the importance of family and communities, along with the hybrid children being the future of mankind. There’s definitely a cautionary message about man’s impact on nature and the environment woven throughout the dystopian fairytale aspects, while the distinct fear and hate humans have for the hybrids born in the wake of a pandemic feels very X-Men. However, there are distinct real-life similarities, with a number of masks and temperature checks featured as part of the after effects of the virus, so this aspect may feel a little too close to home for some.
The success of the series hinges entirely on the dynamics of Christian Convery’s Gus and Nonso Anozie’s Jepperd (aka Big Man), and just like Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin and the adorable Grogu, you root for the odd pair instantly. Gus is the heart and soul of the show, and the adorable hybrid has this wonderful sense of hope and optimism that he carries throughout the tale. Convery successfully balances this wholly endearing act with moments of pain and reality throughout the coming-of-age tale, as he leaves the safety of the woods. Game of Throne’s Anozie is perfectly cast as the stoic, less is more protector – who initially doesn’t want Gus slowing him down – but you gradually begin to see little cracks in his armour as he bonds with the hybrid boy. Their relationship really is so poignant, again reinforcing the message of finding a family and community.
Will Forte is another standout as Gus’ father, along with James Brolin’s calming fairytale narrator. Stefania LaVie Owen’s Bear and the animal army represent the spirited and fiesty activists and environmentalists youth of today, very much evoking The Lost Boys, while Neil Sandilands’ villainous General Abbot unfortunately channels Sonic’s Doctor Eggman.
Along with the wonderful performances, the show features absolutely stunning cinematography and locations evoking fantasy saga Lord of the Rings. Shot primarily in New Zealand, the storybook dystopia is filled with beautiful and sweeping wide angle shots of the natural landscapes. The expansive world features lush and green vistas, as nature is reclaiming everything – which is a real departure to the darker colours of the graphic novel. There’s also a real sense of adventure and escape with action sequences taking place in trains (very Indiana Jones), climbing mountaintops and running through forests. The art and costume department have also excelled with outstanding practical and handmade aspects to the hybrids. Gus’ deer ears are amazingly fully practical, with their movement controlled by puppeteer Grant Lehmann. The ears evoke so much of the characters’ emotions and the movements are perfectly timed. The adorable character Bobby is also a real animatronic puppet too! There’s also a couple of nods to the source material, with Gus’ red plaid shirt a homage to the character’s look in the comics, along with the nod to Jeff Lemire’s Essex County graphic novel with the Essex County Zoo.
Featuring a beautiful central dynamic and surprisingly optimistic message, Sweet Tooth breathes new life into the often dark post-apocalyptic genre. This series is genuinely one of Netflix’s best comic book adaptations to date, along with The Umbrella Academy. However I really do hope it’s renewed for another season, as there’s so much more to explore in this expansive world. Now where can I find an adorable Gus?!
Sweet Tooth premieres on Netflix on June 4