The Netflix series Sweet Tooth strikes a delicate balance of light and darkness.
When you first hear the premise of this new Netflix series, you may believe you can pass it up. However, it is simply too good to pass up.
When someone informs you that a new Netflix fantasy series is about to premiere, it begins to feel less like déjà vu and more like you’re trapped in a time loop.
Fantasy is a genre Netflix has delved deeply into over the last couple of years, clearly seeing a lot of traction among its viewers based on the reams of data it has on taste profiles and all that maths stuff.
Which is why Sweet Tooth’s success as a fantasy film adapted from a comic book series was so surprising. It’s not just good; it’s fantastic.
To be fair, Sweet Tooth is not a work of high fantasy; there are no wizards or spells, but there is a quest and some characters are dressed in what could be described as cloaks. Sweet Tooth is a work of magical realism in that its world building is primarily based on what we already know.
It’s a gentle, endearing series with a thread of tragedy running through it, but it’s never oppressively dark. It’s even optimistic and, as the name implies, sweet, but not excessively so.
In that regard, Sweet Tooth is reminiscent of TV writer Bryan Fuller’s earlier work, including Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daisies – and, like the latter, features a voiceover narration provided by James Brolin.
Sweet Tooth is set ten years after a pandemic decimates the population. A mysterious, highly contagious virus spreads across the globe, eventually killing the majority of people. Simultaneously, each child born is a human-animal hybrid.
Although no one knows which came first – the virus or the hybrids – fearful humans continue to persecute the unusual children.
Gus (Christian Convery) is one of these children, who possesses deer ears and antlers, as well as the animal’s hypersensitive hearing and sense of smell. Gus is raised in the woods by his father (Will Forte), where they have scrounged a living.
Gus has always been warned not to trust other humans, but when he finds himself on his own, he befriends Tommy Jeppard/Big Man (Nonso Anozie), a former football star and poacher who rescues him from a couple of hunters.
The nomadic Big Man is not looking for a traveling companion, much less one as troublesome as Gus. Gus is on a quest to locate the woman who has been identified as his mother, and his adventures will take him to a variety of locations and through the doors of a variety of people.
Additionally, there are two subplots involving a doctor (Adeel Akhtar) who is attempting to save his wife from “the sick” and a woman (Dania Ramirez) who has established a hybrid sanctuary.
Sweet Tooth is well-paced, unfolding at a brisk enough pace to maintain your interest while allowing time for character and story moments to breathe. The semi-episodic structure keeps it binge-worthy but not obnoxious – you’ll want to keep watching but won’t be resentful.
The production design is imaginative, and the photography benefits significantly from the fact that it was shot in New Zealand. There is nothing quite like the vistas of New Zealand.
And, like the story itself, Gus strikes a delicate balance between being lovable and adorable and being twee and cloying. Although this post-apocalyptic story contains darkness and numerous threats, you are never overwhelmed by them.
Convery, 11, possesses a natural instinct, and directors Jim Mickle, Toa Fraser, and Robyn Grace have worked with the young actor to elicit an authentic performance.
That near-impossible, sincere balance is extremely difficult to achieve, but Sweet Tooth accomplishes it with the force of Gus’ heart.