Gus may look like antlers like a deer, but he’s a pup dog at the core. The principal role of Netflix’s new series Sweet Tooth, based on the humor by Jeff Lemire, is a youthful boy fighting to survive in a world devastated by a pandemic. But while the planet around him falls into chaos, Gus, performed by Christian Convery, nevermore loses his understanding of wide-eyed optimism. His ears perk up if he listens about chocolate or candy apples, and he has a nearly naive trust in people who shouldn’t always be believed. At a moment when we’re submerged with harrowing post-apocalyptic stories about how dark humanity can see, Sweet Tooth and its charming lead offer something very appreciated: hope.
Most of the setup is in the well-known region. A pandemic has hit off much of the human community, and those left behind are attempting to rebuild something approximating a society, some via force, others through the neighborhood. What makes Sweet Tooth complex are creatures called hybrids: human-animal blends that first appeared (birthed from human parents) concurrently the “sick,” as it’s called, started killing people. They’re delightful little data that would make Anne Geddes majestic. But most people can’t rise to look beyond the apparent relationship between combinations and the pandemic — and this doesn’t bode favorably for the composites.
Gus doesn’t remember much about any of this. At the show’s origin, the deer-child resides in an isolated cottage with his father, who trains him what he’ll want to recognize to endure. Gus is bound to learn a series of rules — essentially, they include running away from danger and waiting quiet — while his dad instructs him how to farm, fix things, and even read via handmade variants of classic books he edits from memory. Gus realizes that the world outside of their captivating plot of land is utilized by fire. Because of this, he’s never assumed to go beyond the hedge that surrounds them. But, for causes that I won’t spoil (but which you can probably guess), Gus finishes up leaving the property and touring with a big man known primarily as Big Man (Nonso Anozie) in quest of the mother he’s never actually met.
Sweet Tooth begins slow, and it’s better off for it. Early on, the show doesn’t look too concerned with the larger mysteries of the sickness, the hybrids, or how the two connect. A side story involving a troubled doctor becomes more important later on, but the show is almost entirely about Gus for the first few episodes. First, his nearly comfortable life at home, as he keeps birthdays with new books and handcrafted stuffed animals. The vibe is friendly and supportive, with many cozy sweaters, wood cabins, and sounding fireplaces — and just a whiff of danger lurking in the backdrop. (Executive producer Amanda Burrell earlier described the show’s artistic as “storybook dystopia.”) Even after he attempts out into the big, scary external world, things aren’t particularly dark; this isn’t the sort of post-apocalyptic world scattered with abandoned bodies and terrible monsters. It’s our world, just a bit softer and greener. And with some roving groups.
It’s not only the aesthetic that proffers the show beckoning, though. It’s Gus himself. He’s such a friendly and trusting kid that you can’t support but root for him. Even when everything gets dark — and they will — he keeps a sense of optimism that’s extraordinary for this kind of literature. I especially admire that you can understand his mood; Gus is primarily human, but, as suggested before, he holds the antlers and ears of a deer. So when he appears sad or excited, his ears will perk up or lay flat depending on his excited state. It’s delightful.
Gus being this warm, encouraging emotional core is necessary because Sweet Tooth ultimately exposes its darker view. After a few chapters, the layers begin to peel back, revealing things like militarized forces accumulating supplies, the systematic hunt and exploitation of hybrid kids, and well-meaning doctors who will take anything, no matter how terrible, to get a cure for the virus. These are estimated out by other factions, like a zoo that’s been converted into a hybrid sanctuary and a boisterous army of kids existing free of grown-up guidance. The dilemma is that most of this is jammed into the second half of the eight-episode period, starting off the pacing. Sweet Tooth unwaveringly goes from a slow trauma that delays characters and moments to a race to unravel the many secrets of the infection, hybrids, and Gus’s origin. The season also concludes on a massive cliffhanger, presenting it as a preface rather than a standalone story.
Sweet Tooth is remarkable—post-apocalyptic at its most optimistic. Settings are so commonplace that they’re relatively generic at this time; grim, colorless worlds punctuated by blood and slaughter (and the random zombie). Sweet Tooth leads to carving out its own space, one that’s incredibly encouraging. I wish it kept up that feeling through the latter half of the period. When the display devolves into secret and action, it loses much of what performs it unique — but at least Gus is still there to improve you get it through