A deadly disease has ravaged the population, and those who have survived are prone to turning against innocent parties and/or each other in order to get a leg up in the new world – no, it isn’t 2021, it’s Sweet Tooth, the first season of which available for streaming today, June 4th, 2021. But while the premise leads to some inevitable moments of grimness, the defining element of the debut season is the magic forged by characters connecting with one another.
In a note from co-showrunners Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz included with the screeners, it was explained that while the pilot was shot in 2019, the series had been in the writers room for two months when the world went into lockdown in March 2020.
Filmed in New Zealand, there’s plenty here that will remind you of the COVID-19 pandemic, running the gamut from confused messaging by health officials to the prevalence of face masks (although in the world of Sweet Tooth, these masks seem to protect those wearing the masks rather than those around them).
The series is based on the Vertigo comic series of the same name by Lemire; however, the comic hits more closely to post-apocalyptic tone of Stephen King’s The Stand than the Netflix adaptation does, with the latter adopting a decidedly more optimistic sensibility. Like the Netflix adaptations of The Umbrella Academy or Locke & Key, Sweet Tooth takes some liberties in the move from panel to screen, but that’s necessary for the shifting mediums – and anyway, Lemire’s excellent comics remain intact and waiting on the shelf of a nearby store or library (and you’ll want to check them out just to see Lemire’s distinctive, singular art).
An Innocent Protagonist
A big part of the reason Sweet Tooth is successful is its protagonist, the hybrid named Gus (but often referred to by his eponymous diminutive). Played with innocence and wonder by Christian Convery, Gus is our unassuming entry into the post-Great Crumble world.
At the heart of the first season is his friendship with a stranger he meets named Big Man (Nonso Anozie). It’s hard to discuss the specifics of this relationship without spoiling anything, but suffice to say that the dynamic between the pair is sure to win you over. In a foreword to the Deluxe Edition of a Sweet Tooth comic collection, Michael Sheen compared the relationship between Gus and Big Man to Jake and Roland’s in King’s Dark Tower cycle, but I think that comparison is more apt for their relationship as depicted on screen than it was for the comic.
Rounding out the main cast is the charming Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife, Rani Singh (Aliza Vellani), Gus’s father (Will Forte), and General Abbott (Neil Sandilands). Almost all of these characters have had some significant changes in the adaptation, and that makes sense: their narrative expansions seem necessary for the on-screen version of the story.
And in a brief but affecting scene, we see Aimee Eden (Dania Ramirez) spend a year in a single room… which for some of us is unfortunately relatable content. In fact, it’s hard not to feel like some of the best scenes in this season – like two characters who haven’t seen each other in years reuniting with one another – aren’t directly mining emotional veins uncovered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sweet Tooth season one is streaming now
Really, it’s impossible to watch Sweet Tooth and – in spite of all its human-animal hybrids and folksy narration (by James Brolin) – not be reminded of the virus-addled world outside your window.
However, it’s clear this is by design, especially with the addition of pandemic era flourishes that weren’t present in the source text but which have become extremely familiar in your day-to-day life.
Just like the people in our world, the characters in Sweet Tooth have been presented with a lot of change all at once. The principle conflict in this season is whether they will use the opportunities such change affords in order to build a better place for everyone, or simply burn everything down.
Sweet Tooth makes the argument that it’s worth building something better.