After the Marvel experiment was forcibly ended by Kevin Feige’s ascension to the company’s Chief Creative Officer and his desire to regather as many of the outfit’s properties under his roof as possible, Netflix was forced to look towards lesser-known and more obscure properties to mine for inspiration.
For the most part it’s worked a treat, with the notable and very recent exception of the $31 million acquisition of Mark Millar’s Millarworld leading to eight episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy at a cost of $200 million before the plug was pulled, leading to such critical and audience favorites as The Umbrella Academy, Warrior Nun, Locke & Key, the Lucifer revival and more. Sweet Tooth, adapted from the comic of the same name from DC imprint Vertigo, is the latest to be given the bug budget live-action treatment, and it’s definitely worth adding to your watch-list.
The broad strokes of the story are helpfully outlined in the opening act of the first episode, introducing us to main character Gus and the world he inhabits. In accidentally prescient fashion, a global virus has changed humanity as we know it, leading to a cataclysmic event known as The Great Crumble, which gave rise to human/animal hybrid babies being born out of mysterious circumstances. Gus is part deer, and his father has raised him secretly in the wilderness for the first ten years of his life, ensuring he stays as far away from the rest of the population as possible for his own safety, before a tragedy drops Nonso Anozie’s Tommy Jepperd into his path, with the mismatched duo instantly striking up a rapport.
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The pilot is very heavy on the sentimentality, but there’s also no shortage of darkness to be found either, although it’s balanced with plenty of spectacle and whimsy. That’s the essence of Sweet Tooth in a nutshell, with the show regularly pivoting from scenes of violent and bloody murder to a wide-eyed child making friends with a surrogate family, counterbalanced with society devolving into the ugliest version of itself while also leaning heavily into an environmental and even spiritual angle.
A fantastical adventure, odd couple road trip movie, coming-of-age story and post-apocalyptic mystery thriller all distilled down into one appealing package that caters to virtually every demographic is no easy task, but creator Jim Mickle does a phenomenal job of handling such a wild mashup that could have easily overstretched itself with a less capable showrunner at the helm. At various points, Sweet Tooth evokes memories of such wildly disparate movies and TV shows as The Walking Dead, The Road, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Mad Max, Willow and even The Lord of the Rings via the sweeping vistas making the best possible use of the production’s New Zealand locations.
As the narrative progresses, three storylines unfold simultaneously, and it’s evident from the off that they’re all going to collide at some stage. The main driving force is the journey of Gus and Tommy, who eventually cross paths with Stefania LaVie Owen’s Bear, a youngster who leads a band of environmentally-friendly teen rebels who believe the hybrids are the future of the planet and want to protect them at all costs, a sentiment not shared by the various death squads tasked with hunting them down and eliminating them.
The second follows Adeel Akhtar’s Dr. Aditya Singh, who’s introduced in the opening voiceover as an important doctor who attempts to find a cure for the deadly disease ravaging the country, of which his wife has been afflicted but he tries to keep secret, and you can probably imagine how that goes. The third and final arc tracks Dania Ramirez’s Aimee, who runs a safe zone for hybrids out of the local zoo at huge personal risk, and while it takes a while for the triptych to dovetail and ultimately pay off, each plot thread generates enough interest on its own as the tapestry of the wider world is tied together by James Brolin’s warm narration.
Shows with child protagonists often live or die by the performances of the untested leads, and in this case Christian Convery delivers as Gus. He might wear the exact same facial expression 99% of the time he’s onscreen, but there’s an endearing quality he possesses that’s difficult to come by when many performers of his age are either cloyingly precocious or obviously trying too hard. However, the real revelation is Anozie, so often relegated to thankless supporting parts, who knocks his turn as Tommy out of the park. He’s a hulking mass of manliness that’s more than capable of handling himself in a scrap, with the requisite dark and troubled past to boot, but you can almost feel his initial disinterest in Gus thawing as the series moves forward, although he’s got no problem switching to badass mode at the flick of a switch either.
Sweet Tooth might not be for everyone, and you’ll know long before the end of the first episode if you’re in it for the long haul, but fans of heightened fantasy and good old fashioned road trip adventures will get a genuine kick out of a stunningly shot and frequently exciting big budget epic that should realistically generate a few more seasons if Netflix subscribers are willing to bite.