In a crowded field of postapocalyptic dramas, critically acclaimed Netflix series Sweet Tooth stands out as much for its hopeful tone as for its endlessly optimistic half-deer, half-boy protagonist, Gus.
Sweet Tooth follows 10-year-old Gus (Christian Convery) as he leaves the safety of the isolated forest camp he grew up in and sets off on a journey across the plague-ravaged country to find his mother in the company of a mysterious loner named Jepperd (Nonso Anozie) who has secrets of his own. The first season of Sweet Tooth premiered June 4 on the streaming service, and earned praise from critics and general audiences alike with its tale of a virus that tears the world apart and the emergence of half-human, half-animal children — like Gus — who might hold the key to humanity’s future.
Although it’s set in a world full of death and uncertainty, where a highly contagious virus has reduced humanity to pockets of desperate survivors and extremists motivated by greed and corrupt ideologies, Sweet Tooth unfolds through the perspectives of Gus and other survivors who find reasons (and purpose) to stay hopeful.
According to filmmaker Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Hap & Leonard), who developed Sweet Tooth from Jeff Lemire’s comic book series of the same name, the traditional expectations for postapocalyptic stories and the realities of our current, pandemic-shaped lives both inspired and reaffirmed, respectively, the decision to give the Netflix series a more hopeful, lighter tone than its genre peers and its source material.
“At the time [when we were developing the series], around 2017, I was in the mood for both watching and telling a bit more hopeful story, especially in times of darkness,” Mickle told Digital Trends. “The fairy tale aspect of Sweet Tooth offered a new way to look at what the world might look like in a postapocalyptic America, so it started organically from those early ideas, and from Gus in the comic book, who provides the point of view on everything.”
“But if you were to do it straight from the comic book, it would probably feel like a documentary now,” he added, “or like so many things we’ve seen in the genre already.”
The series’ unique spin on the genre also extends to its characters, whose narrative arcs rarely take them in the directions one expects, and offer plenty of surprises — even for fans of the Sweet Tooth comic series.
The show casts Dania Ramirez and Stefania LaVie Owen as Aimee Eden and Bear, respectively, two characters who don’t exist in the comics, but play key roles in both Gus’ journey and the greater world, where the half-human “hybrid” children are feared — and even hunted — by the dwindling, fully human population. Aimee is a former therapist who discovers her true calling when she provides sanctuary for hybrids, while Bear is the orphaned leader of a child army in the postapocalyptic world.
“As the show evolves, so does Aimee, and to be a part of a message that’s so beautiful is really … It’s just a very selfless kind of role,” says Ramirez. “A lot of times I’m playing a badass or someone very motherly and sweet, but to be able to combine the two and be this badass Mama Bear warrior, who’s not only protecting hybrids, but also teaching them and learning from them, that feels so special to me.”
“I’d never read a character like Bear ever,” agreed Owen. “I am used to playing the sister of somebody or the daughter, but [Bear] is such an individual. She’s lost her family, and she’s created her own family. She’s a very empowering character who knows who she is, but eventually realizes maybe she doesn’t. … I feel like a lot of people go through that. They feel like they know their identity and who they are, and then something happens and they don’t. I love so many things about Bear.”
While some cast members embraced their characters’ differences, it was actually the similarity with his character that kept series star Convery excited about putting on his antlers to play Gus each day.
“We’re practically the same person,” laughed Convery. “We’re both hopeful and optimistic and positive, and love sour candies and running and jumping and nature. I could go on and on.”
And it’s the endless optimism from Gus that provides one of the most direct links between the Netflix series and Lemire’s original Sweet Tooth saga, which played out across 46 issues published from 2009 until 2013.
“The world has changed so much since I did the book, [and] a lot of the things in the comic book have kind of come true in that time between the comic and the show, but at the end of the day, I think [the show] has the same heart that was in the comic,” Lemire told Digital Trends. “Gus is still the same optimistic character, and the show ends up getting a lot of the same beats. The comic’s story needed to be presented in a different way, though, and I was really open and sympathetic to that.”
The streaming service has yet to renew Sweet Tooth for a second season, leaving the show’s fans anxious about the fates of Gus, Jeppard, and their friends after a particularly intense season-ending cliffhanger.
“When I first got the role, I had a long discussion with Jim Mickle about my character’s arc and the way that’s going to unfold throughout Sweet Tooth,” said Anozie. “We’re only just beginning that arc, so when it comes to a new season, you’re going to have to ask next Netflix about that.”