Gus may have antlers like a deer, but he’s a puppy at heart. The main character of the new series from Netflix sweet toothBased on Jeff Lemire’s comic book, a young boy struggles to survive in a world ravaged by a pandemic. But as the world around him descends into chaos, Gus, played by Christian Convery, never loses his sense of magnanimous optimism. His ears prick up – literally – when he hears about chocolate or candy apples, and he has an almost naive belief in people who can’t always be trusted. At a time when we are inundated with grim post-apocalyptic tales of how dark humanity can get, sweet tooth and its adorable lead offer something very welcome: hope.
Most of the setup is familiar territory. A pandemic has killed much of humanity, and those left behind are trying to build something akin to society, some by force, some by community. What makes sweet tooth otherwise beings called hybrids are mixtures of man and animal that first appeared (born of human parents) at the same time that the “sick,” as it is called, began to kill humans. They are definitely cute little things that would make Anne Geddes pride. But most people don’t seem to be looking beyond the apparent link between hybrids and the pandemic — and this doesn’t bode well for the hybrids.
Gus doesn’t know much about this. At the start of the show, the deer kid lives in a secluded cabin with his father, who teaches him what he needs to know to survive. Gus is forced to learn a set of rules—usually involving running away from danger and being quiet—while his father teaches him how to burp, fix things, and even read through handcrafted versions of classic books he rewrites from memory. Gus believes the world outside their enchanted patch of land is being consumed by fire. Therefore, he must never go beyond the fence that surrounds them. But for reasons I won’t spoil (but you can probably guess), Gus eventually leaves the property and travels with a big man best known as Big Man (Nonso Anozie) in search of the mother he never really knew. has met.
sweet tooth starts off slow, and it gets better off. At first, the show doesn’t seem too concerned with the larger mysteries of the disease, the hybrids, or how the two are related. There’s a side story about a troubled doctor who later becomes more important, but for the first few episodes, the show is almost all about Gus. First, his almost idyllic life at home, as he celebrates birthdays with new books and handmade stuffed animals. The atmosphere is warm and comforting, with lots of cozy sweaters, wooden huts and roaring fireplaces – and just a hint of danger lurking in the background. (Executive producer Amanda Burrell previously described the show’s aesthetic as “storybook dystopia.”) Even after venturing into the big, scary outside world, things aren’t particularly dark; this isn’t the kind of post-apocalyptic world littered with discarded bodies and horrible monsters. It’s our world, just a little quieter and greener. And with a few roaming gangs.
It’s not just the aesthetics that make the show inviting, though. It’s Gus himself. He is such a sweet and trusting child that you can’t help but plead for him. Even when it gets dark – and it will – he retains a sense of optimism that is rare for this type of story. I especially love that you can do that see his mood; Gus is mostly human, but as mentioned before, he has the antlers and ears of a deer. So when he’s feeling sad or excited, his ears will perk up or lay flat, depending on his emotional state. It’s cute.
Gus is this warm, comforting emotional core is important because sweet tooth eventually reveals his dark side. After a few episodes, the layers begin to peel off, revealing things like militarized troops hoarding supplies, the systematic hunting and exploitation of hybrid children, and well-meaning doctors who will do anything, no matter how creepy, to keep a to find a cure for the virus. These are offset by other factions, such as a zoo turned into a hybrid sanctuary, and a rowdy army of children living without adult supervision.
The problem is, most of this is crammed into the second half of the eight-episode season, disrupting the pace. sweet tooth moves steadily from a slow burn that lingers on characters and moments, to a race to explain the many mysteries of the disease, hybrids, and origins of Gus. The season also ends with a huge cliffhanger, which makes it feel a bit like a prologue, rather than a standalone story.
At his most confident, sweet tooth is remarkable. Post-apocalyptic settings are so commonplace that they are almost generic at this point; grim, gray worlds punctuated by gore and gore (and the occasional zombie). sweet tooth manages to create its own space, one that is incredibly inviting. I wish it kept that feeling in the second half of the season. When the show moves into mystery and action, it loses a lot of what makes it unique – but at least Gus is still there to help you get through it.
sweet tooth debuts on Netflix on June 4.