Jeff Lemire's comic series Sweet Tooth largely put him on the map for American comic book fans, running for 40 issues through DC's Vertigo imprint and leading to him writing titles like Animal Man, Green Arrow, and Moon Knight. Though his storytelling prowess could be felt across the heroes of the Big Two, the story of a little deer boy in a post-apocalyptic landscape remains one of his most personal and intimate tales in the medium. Any story with as unique a plotline as this presents the opportunity for a total fumble of the concept if brought into live-action, but Netflix's series adaptation of the show delivers all of the heart, humor, and tension that readers loved about the original Sweet Tooth.
Executive produced by former Marvel man Robert Downey Jr., Sweet Tooth doesn't beat around the bush of what its premise is, engulfing the viewer in an opening sequence that focuses entirely on how civilization crumbles due to the presence of a new deadly virus. Many might be immediately turned off by this after the year we've all had, and I couldn't blame you, but this sequence itself is not indicative of all eight episodes that follow, as the blossom of the adorable animal-hybrid children shows up almost immediately. In fact, this moment leads to the introduction of young actor Christian Convery as Gus, a.k.a. the titular Tooth, a.k.a. the beaming light of hope that the world of the show, and ours, desperately needs.
Sweet Tooth the comic was a frequent bummer with the pratfalls of its characters, and the TV series leans into that in the best way by delivering tension that stems from their decisions and not the random chance of a world infected by a pandemic. To that end, Convery embodies optimism, curiosity, and naivety (trademarks of Gus in the comics) in a soulful performance that might have you convinced his antlers are real.
Convery is flanked by other heavy hitters throughout the series, too, whose work only elevates the performance of their young screen partner. Nonso Anozie takes on the role of the grizzled Tommy Jepperd, giving the jaded parts of the audience someone to hold onto and a set of eyes through which they can learn to embrace Gus' hopeful nature. Will Forte's time as Gus' dad "Pubba" makes for tremendous work by the actor best known for starring in comedies, while also delivering a fresh take on the character that brings one of the biggest changes from the comic and one that is actively an improvement. Adeel Akhtar also stars as Dr. Aditya Singh, a face that will be familiar to comic readers and whose time as the character comes with tremendous expansion from his appearances in the comic, which are welcome and round out the whole picture.
The first trailers for Netflix's adaptation made it seem like major changes in tone were being made to Sweet Tooth, and while there is certainly a softening of some of the more edgy moments from Lemire's original series, the core of this story remains intact. Showrunner Jim Mickle has managed to bring the dramatic and scary world to the front while also giving audiences already exhausted by actively living in a pandemic a world that they can buy into. This is a world where the familiarity of masks and temperature checks doesn't bring the room down, but only serves as a reminder of the threat. It's also a world where adorable human-animal hybrids run around and get into mischief.
Sweet Tooth the series not only brings the actual story of the comics to life in live-action in a satisfying and engaging way, but also manages to deliver elements of Lemire's writing that are less than conventional, like trippy, offbeat dream sequences. It's clear from the jump that the team behind Sweet Tooth actively loves the comic and anyone that was a reader should be able to see that the familiarity with the source material is the building block of every creative choice in the show. Some may not be as interested, since the dour and gloomy, almost The Road-like sensibility of the comic isn't as present, but there are still thrills and gut-punches to be found, even if they're not relentlessly depressing at every turn. There are also some pretty big deviations and elaborations that will keep readers on their toes too.
Frankly, Sweet Tooth is premiering at the right time. Even though some may roll their eyes at a story that kicks off with a pandemic and a lingering virus threat, we're at a point collectively where vaccines are rolling out across the U.S. and in other countries. We're craving freedom. We're catching up with friends we haven't seen and sharing our stories of what we did over the past calendar year. We're remembering what a trial it was to live through this. We're remembering the people we lost. That's all there in Sweet Tooth, too. We can all relate to this material in some way, and in the end, it's the hope and idealism that the titular character has in every ounce of his being that sticks with you, not the fact that masks and social distancing are mentioned throughout. We're ready to live, to explore the world, to find the promise of life again, and so is Sweet Tooth.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Sweet Tooth will premiere its first season on Netflix on Friday, June 4th.