Sweet Tooth: A Discussion of Show and Comic

The comic (throughout the series):

Story & Art: Jeff Lemire
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Additional art: Nate Powell, Emi Lenox, Matt Kindt

After being raised in total isolation, Gus – a boy born with deer-like antlers – is left to survive in an American landscape devastated a decade earlier by an inexplicable pandemic. Even more remarkable is that Gus is part of a rare new breed of human/animal hybrid children who have emerged in its wake, all apparently immune to the infection.Enter Jepperd, a violent, hulking drifter who soon takes in Gus and promises to lead him to “The Preserve,” a fabled safe-haven for hybrid children. Along the way they’ll have to contend with science militias, deadly scavengers, rival bounty hunters, and hybrid worshipping cultists as they fight to make it to safety and solve the mysteries of this deadly new frontier.”

I did something like this a while back for The Empty Man, and it seemed well enjoyed. So let’s take a dive into Sweet Tooth.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers in this review as much as possible, so anything being vague is intentional to dodge spoiling import plot points.

The Netflix description is the ideal place to start this review: “On a perilous adventure in a post-apocalyptic world, a boy who’s half-human and half deer searches for a new beginning with a gruff protector.”

I binged the new series Sweet Tooth in one sitting, and I’ll premise everything I’m about to say with this: I did enjoy it as a show. I am approaching what I’m about to write as a fan of both the comic AND show. But I don’t know how I feel about it as an adaptation of the comic, for a few reasons. It is a perfect example of an adaptation taking the bare bones concept of the original story, and doing another version of the concept.

The Story

Probably the biggest takeaway I had myself, and discussing with others that have both read and watched Sweet Tooth, is that the Netflix adaptation was made to be more family friendly. This is fine, I get why you’d want the show with the adorable little Gus on all the promo images to be something accessible to a broader audience. The level of dark the comic goes into would not be okay for kids, and it’d be a risk having such a cute kid that, if parents weren’t paying attention, could be enticing to young children or families and end up with some…. well, nightmares, honestly.

But along with stripping the darkest of darkness from it, easing up on the horrific aspects some, it does something I found peculiar: It feels like a different story. It’s heavily focused on fleshing out the backgrounds of other characters – I’ll get more into that momentarily – and taking Gus on more wholesome adventures, that it doesn’t cover much from the comic until close to the end of season one. And even then, it’s a cross between very beginning of comic book Sweet Tooth and the end of the comic.

The main point I’d like to hammer in: if you watch Sweet Tooth with the kiddos, this isn’t a good one to transition them to comics with. The hell Gus goes through in the comics is much more nightmarish and brutal, while cute Netflix Gus is mostly having an adventure with some dark undertones that creep in repeatedly.

The Characters

Some characters underwent massive changes, and/or the Netflix version decided to redeem their characters very, very early on to make them likeable sooner rather than later. Other characters were made much more adorable or friendly than they come across in the comic series.

I’m not going to discuss every character, but will touch on a few, including some either totally reinvented or even made up characters.

Abbot was honestly perfectly cast. The acting pulled the same emotions from me that I had when I read Sweet Tooth. The moment I saw him, I knew who the character was, and he really nailed the part.

Dr Singh is given a lot more depth, story, and sympathy than in the comics, making him immediately likeable, when that isn’t always the case necessarily in the book. But I did like having more understanding for his character and fleshing him out a bit.

It took me a bit of thinking to process Aimee was a combination of Wendy’s unnamed mother and Lucy, and the realization that Bear was Becky came later in the series. I loved both of the characters in the Netflix adaptation, probably more so than their comic book counterparts (especially for this version of Sweet Tooth) – but these ladies definitely have considerably different backgrounds than the book versions.

All of the hybrid kids were made pretty adorable, but Bobby may have been an example of cuteness overload for the sake of having an adorable animal character that wasn’t as human as the rest. Bobby in the comic… while loveable, he would have probably terrified kids if they stuck to his look.

Jepperd is one of the prime examples of characters they wanted us to warm up to much sooner. He’s a critical part of the Sweet Tooth story overall. So a violent old man hockey player that you weren’t quite sure you could trust wasn’t going to fit in well to this version. I absolutely love Jepperd in the adaptation. He has that loner feel without betraying us quite as harshly or quickly as he did in the comics. Instead, he achieves what he built up to in the comics much quicker.

I was also relieved that Daddy (or Pubba, as he’s called in the adaptation), Richard Fox, was much more likeable and forgivable. The change of story involving his mother was also something I enjoyed.

Soundtrack

The music is so perfect and fitting throughout and really brings you into the summertime adventure feelings that it gives off. Maybe it isn’t dark and gloomy, but that’s okay. That isn’t needed here.

End Thoughts

This show, while enjoyable and much more family friendly, still has a massive looming darkness for 2021 viewers: the outbreak of a virus, the world torn apart, the cruelty in desperation, and fear. These are all things that feel entirely too familiar right now, and if you’re sensitive to any of that still right now – maybe put Sweet Tooth off for a bit.

This is a great show for people with no attachments to the comic, and if you can step away from the source material for a more pleasant adventure – this is a show for you. If you’re a cranky old die hard of the comics that wanted a perfect adaptation – don’t ruin the enjoyment of others by bate watching.

While they each have very different approaches, both versions of Sweet Tooth are enjoyable. Give it a watch and let me know what you think.

-Angel

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