Any great fairy tale made real and brought to life would read more like a horror story than a fantasy, but Netflix's Sweet Tooth asks: "Why not both?" The show lures you in with fuzzy human-animal "hybrids," and even its post-apocalyptic vistas are bright and beautiful in their way. Once the show has you in its clutches, however, its darker themes take over quickly.
Sweet Tooth is an adaptation of a comic book series by the same name, created by Jeff Lemire. It tells a timely story about a world wrought by plague and social upheaval at the same time — a pandemic called "the Sick" hit just as part-animal hybrids did, and the resulting misinformation caused hybrids and sick people both to be hunted. However, the show begins nestled in an oasis of innocence where part-deer boy Gus (Christian Convery) is raised alone in the forest by his father, played by Will Forte. The strongest portion of this adaptation is really the gradual transition from this innocence into the reality of "The Great Crumble" — both for Gus and the audience.
Once you get there, however, the fictional world established in Sweet Tooth is not the most fleshed-out in the genre today. Perhaps it's because the show comes hot on the heels of a real apocalypse and all kinds of real social upheaval. It's also difficult to suspend your disbelief at times when the show continually reminds you that this apocalypse is only 10 years old.
Still, when you can pierce that veil, the world of Sweet Tooth is a fascinating one. It's full of mysteries that demand to be solved and alliances to be untangled, not to mention short plot detours that fill out the post-Crumble reality nicely. The characters are distinct and vivid — perhaps the strongest translation from the source material — and their trauma developed over the last ten years is the best element at convincing the audience that this really happened.
On that note, there's really not a single performance here that doesn't deserve specific praise. Of course, the biggest triumph is Convery, who holds your attention like any veteran actor would but at just 11 years old. He brings a pathos to the one-of-a-kind experience of Gus without feeling forced or predictable.
However, if there is a Sweet Tooth Season 2 to look forward to, other characters will need to come to the forefront and carry more of the story. Dania Ramirez as Aimee does so much with so little screentime, and she needs to be rewarded in any installments to come. Stefania LaVie Owen as Bear is absolutely captivating, and if one storyline will stick with you and leave you broken-hearted weeks after viewing, it's that of Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and Rani Singh (Aliza Vellani).
As always, I need to grumble that these performances would be even better with more time to shine. Netflix's insistence on 8-episode seasons does not seem to serve many of its original series well — especially sci-fi and fantasy adaptations where exposition time is at a premium. With 46 comic book issues and counting to draw upon, there is no reason for this show to rush. With comic book adaptations still ruling the movies and epic fantasy adaptations taking over TV, Sweet Tooth is a hybrid in its own unique way, and it deserves the time and space to explore that, just like Gus.
Sweet Tooth is not a cathartic new take on the plague narrative or a blueprint for the brave new world to come, but as long as you're not expecting those things, it is not disappointing. At its heart, the show is a fun, straightforward adventure romp that just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic world that dares you to be distracted. Whatever else you take from the show, be sure to keep that in mind. Sweet Tooth Season 1 streams on Netflix starting on Friday, June 4.