‘Sweet Tooth’ is a gentle reimagining of a dystopian storey. The programme, which is based on Jeff Lemire’s comic book series, combines childish wonderment to a terrifying post-pandemic world.
At first sight, Sweet Tooth appears to be a strange title for a post-apocalyptic drama, especially one about a virus-caused catastrophe that happens to arrive just as we’re digging our way out from under Covid.
However, after we come to know Gus, the show’s cute young hero, “sweet” turns out to be the most appropriate adjective to use to describe it.
Sweet Tooth is based on a comic book by Jeff Lemire that was adapted by Jim Mickle (Happ and Leonard). It takes place a decade after “the Great Crumble,” in which a virus wiped out the majority of humanity while — coincidentally or not — all kids began to be born as human-animal hybrids.
Gus, played by Christian Convery, is a lively and friendly boy who has spent the first decade of his existence being sheltered from the wreckage of society by his father (Will Forte), whom he affectionately refers to as “Pubba.”
Gus has been protected from the nightmare that has overtaken the world, and Pubba has fostered in him a curious and compassionate attitude that is almost as contagious as the virus that caused the Great Crumble.
Almost everyone who encounters Gus, especially the big ex-football player Tommy Jepperd (Game of Thrones’ Nonso Anozie), can’t help but feel protective of him and encouraged to be better than they thought was still possible in this harsh new reality.
Sweet Tooth rapidly begins to feel less like a dystopian nightmare and more like a slightly dark but generally cheerful fairy tale — and a pretty amusing one, at that — thanks to Gus’ radiating friendliness and other touches like some homespun narration by James Brolin.
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Convery is responsible for a lot of the show’s success. Very little of it works if the viewer doesn’t fall in love with Gus right away. Gus is made to appear sweet but not cloying, innocent but not naive, pleasant but not ideal by Convery.
Scenes with him bring out the best in Forte, Anozie, and Stefania LaVie Owen, and it’s an incredible balancing act from such a young talent (as Bear, leader of a cult that reveres and protects the hybrids).
Those portions of Sweet Tooth are full of life, and as exciting or tense as needed, whether Gus and his companions are having terrifying or enjoyable adventures.
When the programme deviates from Gus, however, it can be hit or miss, and those subplots, not surprisingly, function best the closer they stick to his infantile perspective. Dania Ramirez plays Aimee, a former therapist who now lives in an abandoned zoo. Her scenes are mostly in the same fairytale tone as Gus’.
Material involving Adi Singh (Adeel Akhtar), a doctor still trying to cure the virus after all these years, or General Abbott (Neil Sandilands), the despot whose Last Men militia controls what’s left of America, on the other hand, feels like it was cut from a previous Walking Dead season because it was too generic.
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Abbott wears round, flip-up sunglasses and has a thick beard. You can see he was created to look intriguing on the comic-book page, like a lot of the characters. But he isn’t much more than his outward aspect. Gus, on the other hand, not only looks great (the ears in especially seem very alive), but he is also a truly three-dimensional person.
The Singh and Abbott subplots also felt like they were created for a more mature show, and may have had their edges smoothed out once Mickle and his partners realised that the show might be liked by people not much older than Gus.
There are huge breakthroughs in Singh’s work on a cure, in particular, that are only obliquely mentioned because explicit explanation would be too terrifying. The TV pilot was shot in 2019, but the series didn’t resume production until after a real-world virus had profoundly transformed life as we knew it.
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The first episode is already a lot lighter than the comic by Lemire. (Among the many differences: Gus’ father is a religious zealot in the comics, but Pubba listens to the Grateful Dead and crafts Gus homemade reproductions of famous books like The Velveteen Rabbit.) So the change in tone wasn’t caused by Covid, but it was a fortunate break anyway.
It would be difficult to make a more spiritually true rendition of the comic that would be interesting in our own pandemic-affected planet. Gus’ (sometimes glowing) eyes provide just enough distance from reality to make the YA adventure feel like its own, frequently thrilling thing, rather than just another awkward reminder of the world beyond our quarantines.