Comics On TV

Five Things To Know About Sweet Tooth Before You Watch

The cast and creators of Netflix's acclaimed new fantasy series say fans of the original comic and newcomers to the story can expect a dark but hopeful Goonies-style adventure... with plenty of surprises.

by | June 3, 2021 | Comments

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by Kirsty Griffin / © Netflix)

Although Sweet Tooth was originally published by DC Comics’s now defunct Vertigo label, it is far from the superheroes of the Arrowverse or even the more dysfunctional heroes of HBO Max. In fact, it has nothing to do with that DC world at all. Instead, it focuses in on 10-year-old Gus, a human-deer hybrid child who spent most of his young life in the wild under the careful eye of his father. But when circumstances force him to take to the road with a wanderer named Tommy Jeppard, he discovers the world beyond his forest is varied, complex, and quite post-apocalyptic. And the new Netflix adaptation of the series starring Christian Convery as Gus and Nonso Anozie as Jeppard follows that aspect of the comic book even as it paints its world with a whole new brush.

But don’t let that throw you. Vertigo was a successful label for decades because it produced these sorts of surprising and idiosyncratic non-superhero comics. And there are plenty of surprises awaiting you in its television form – the first season of which is currently Certified Fresh at 100% on the Tomatometer. As it happens, even fans of the original comic by writer and artist Jeff Lemire will be surprised by it. So, to prepare old hats to Gus’s journey and newcomers alike, here are five things to know before you sit down and watch Sweet Tooth with some help from Convery, Anozie, Lemire, and executive producers Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz.

It Takes Place In A Lush, “Pleasant” Apocalypse (With Some Help from New Zealand’s Scenery)

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by Kirsty Griffin / © Netflix)

Despite its post-apocalyptic road movie prompt, the series is surprisingly beautiful and lush with lots of vegetation. It is a visual aspect Mickle wanted to emphasize from the comic book as both an executive producer and director of the initial episode. “[It comes from] the idea of nature and how much humans have destroyed it and how Gus represents a return to living in harmony with it,” he explained. “It felt like once humans get out of the way, the world is actually going to thrive in a very green, rich, vibrant way. And that became the way to sort of explore the world through Gus’s point of view and how he would see the world from the way that he grew up.”

Part of creating that vibrancy was selecting New Zealand to play a middle America overgrown with vegetation. “It was surreal. It was so majestic and incredible,” Convery said. “And for me, since I’m [playing] a hybrid who’s part human and part deer, I really felt like filming in New Zealand also helped me really connect to being part animal and part human.” Like Gus, Convery took in all those locations with wide eyes, an element of discovery which reflects back into Gus’s journey as each new day brings the character into contact with a new aspect of the world.

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by © Netflix)

Anozie added: “It’s almost prehistoric because it’s so far away from so many places – a lot of it is untouched. So when you film in the wide open spaces in the forest, in the rocky mountains, it’s actually genuinely breathtakingly beautiful to actually witness and, as an actor, when you get a chance to play your character in those environments, it gives you that experience for free.” Although for the actor, who plays a more cynical and morally dubious character, taking that scenery for granted was part of the job as well.

And while the series has its dystopian elements – more on that later – Convery said the richness of the location shooting made the apocalypse feel “pleasant.”

It Is A Fairy Tale Of Sorts, With A Tonal Shift From the Comic…

According to Convery, the series is very much “a magical adventure with friends saving the world.”

That description may surprise fans of Lemire’s comic, which the author described as “a little more violent and darker, in general.” But as Mickle developed the series alongside Arrow veteran Schwartz, he kept Lemire apprised of the tonal change, which he came to appreciate as apocalyptic stories became a larger TV genre in the 10 years since he completed the Sweet Tooth comic. “Just to do it like that again might feel like the same thing we’d seen a thousand times. And so I think reinventing the tone a little bit to reflect today rather than where we were even a decade ago was the right move.”

Part of that reinvention is the regular presence of James Brolin’s voice as an unseen narrator. In the first part of the season, he appears to bookend the episodes and offer some commentary as new characters are introduced. Brolin’s older, relaxed voice definitely sets a tone, although Mickle once again credited Lemire with the notion of a narrator. “Jeff uses every tool in the toolbox in terms of telling stories: voiceover, elliptical storytelling, poetry, seriality, dreams. He does everything,” he explained.

In the original comic, that narration could switch among the various characters or even an omniscient voice presiding over everything. That latter voice appealed to Mickle as it allowed him to tie the journey of Gus and Jeppard – and their emerging bond – to the stories of characters they may not meet for awhile. “With the nature of all this, it felt like there was a storybook and a fairy tale thing coming from the story that we could pull out of the comic book. And that felt like an opportunity to kind of unify it or help guide us through that.”

Schwartz added: “It helps set the tone as well for this fairy tale dystopia that we’re telling, and it gives a slight magical element to it.”

…But It Still Has Room For Suburban Horror

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by © Netflix)

While Gus’s journey has that magic to it, Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) faces something more akin to suburban horror. He has memories of the old world and he is surrounded by a stitched-together community trying to preserve some sense of it, providing for a dystopian atmosphere with its own forms of terror. Meanwhile, he is also tasked with researching the disease which led to the fall of civilization – a role he shares with his comic book counterpart.

“I do love what they did with Singh,” Lemire said. As he recalled, the Singh of the comics was much further along on his “path” when he becomes part of its narrative. “In the comic, we needed him at a point where he’s already on the path, but I never really told his origin story so much.” That origin story as presented on the television series may surprise readers, but according to Lemire, it “gives him such an emotional breadth and his relationship with his wife, Rani, is so rich on screen.” He even admitted he wished he had the time to explore the Singhs the way the show does. “It’s such a rich story line that it’s probably my favorite as well,” he added.

But worry not fans of Singh or his place in the comics: Lemire said the character will likely find himself in similar circumstances and the suburban horror he faces may change out for another horrific situation.

Its Main Antagonist Will Be Familiar Voice… Even If His Face Is Unrecognizable

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by © Netflix)

Someone who may put Singh on that path is General Abbot, played by a nearly unrecognizable Neil Sandilands. He looks more like REM’s Michael Stipe than the polished Thinker fans of The Flash will remember, but his voice work will recall that other DC villain’s brilliance. “Everything about it was the right choice for this part,” Schwartz said.

At the same time, the actor’s chameleon-like ability to become another person was also advantageous to the producers as it gave the “left-of-field” character an intriguing new look. Also, as Mickle explained, “this kind of showmanship quality” appeared which solved a problem they were having with casting the part. “[The character] has the gravitas, but also, your hero is a kid with antlers and [deer] ears. So, how do you find someone that can match the visual panache of that?”

And so Sandilands gave the character a long beard, which may or may not have been the actor’s own lockdown beard. “When we saw him, we were like, whoa, he’s exactly what we didn’t realize we want for the character,” Schwartz said.

Of course, it is important to recall that Abbot is an antagonist and not necessarily a DC Universe-style villain. But his real reasons for finding hybrid children like Gus will nevertheless chill viewers when it comes to light.

It’s Hopeful… And Younger People Can Watch It, Too

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by © Netflix)

Despite the darker corners of the world Singh and Abbot inhabit, the series is meant to be hopeful. “The show really touches your heart in a way that gives you hope and positivity in dark times,” Convery said when asked about its unexpected tone.

For Anozie, there was an added irony in becoming part of Sweet Tooth in the midst of a pandemic. “I think it’s key to recognize that Sweet Tooth was written a decade ago and it’s a coincidence that it helps us relate to it more having gone through the pandemic in the last year,” he said. Nevertheless, he agreed with Convery that it “does convey a message of hope [and] that we can do anything if we rely on each other.”

That sense of hope definitely lends the show a broader appeal to a younger set of viewers, with Convery saying its sense of adventure makes it “more of a PG to PG 13 situation.” Anozie suggested the show could be watched by viewers as young as 8 or 9, “at the parents’ discretion as to whether those kids can watch,” of course.

Sweet Tooth

(Photo by © Netflix)

“We definitely wanted to make a show that you could watch with your kids,” Schwartz added. “There are some dark moments, but the themes I feel are all skewed towards hopefulness.”

To Mickle, the tone of the show not far from classic kids’ movies like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial or The Goonies – films made for kids, but which were nonetheless “frigging dark.”

And, as it happens, Lemire is looking forward to sharing the show with his own son, who is roughly the same age as Gus: “I’m excited to watch it with him and have it be something that kind of just walks the line between what I’m comfortable showing him and certain things that I know will frighten him a little. I think when you can walk that line, you probably got it right.

Sweet Tooth premieres June 4 on Netflix.

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