Sweet Tooth didn’t originally make my heart feel like it was about to crack open from overwhelming and forgotten emotion. But, that’s because the first time I learned about the project, I was looking at the trailer for the new Netflix series. In this version of the story, its hero Gus (a.k.a. Sweet Tooth, played by Christian Convery) is an adorable young child with soft features and shaggy hair.
Lemire’s Gus looks exactly like the protagonist of Fall Out Boy’s first major music video, “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down.” While that 2005 clip doesn’t have Kim Kardashian (see: “Thnks Fr th Mmrs”) or enough touching easter eggs to bring an emo kid to their knees like “What A Catch, Donnie,” it was likely many fans’ initial introduction to the cult favorite band. Sweet Tooth’s ability to rekindle that memory nearly made me — a lifetime Fall Out Boy fan — tear up in the middle of the afternoon.
When you dig into what Sweet Tooth (the series and the comic book) is actually about, you realize its “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” connection isn’t merely aesthetic. Yet, those similarities are still is totally accidental, according to Lemire himself.
Like many genre series, Netflix’s Sweet Tooth is pulling on a lot of threads as it follows the general plot of its comic inspiration. From the very beginning of the series, viewers are introduced to a growing group of “hybrids,” or babies born as half-human and half some other animal. At this same time, the world is also besieged by a terrible disease that very quickly pushes society into violent chaos. Sweet Tooth aims to figure out the root cause of these two occurrences.
Nevertheless, those titillating sci-fi mysteries aren’t the heart of Sweet Tooth — Gus is. Gus is a deer-boy who is raised in the forest by his father, “Pubba” (Will Forte). Gus has no friends and is taught to be afraid of any possible threats around him, especially humans. Pubba tells Gus that strangers will harm him if given the opportunity, and he isn’t wrong. As Sweet Tooth explains, in the wake of the pandemic, human survivors turned on the hybrids and blamed them for the deadly virus due to their differences. Hybrids are hunted and attacked. Gus is genuinely unsafe in this word because he’s a deer-boy. Gus’ dream — and journey — over Sweet Tooth’s eight episodes is to find somewhere he can be embraced and loved.
“Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” follows a very similar, if slightly more adult, path. The Virgins singer Donald Cumming plays the unnamed lead of the video, who is a lonely deer-boy. Kids throw trash at him. Items get caught in his antlers as he eats lunch alone in a cemetery. This deer-boy has clearly learned humanity means him harm, too. His signature fashion item is a red sweater reminiscent of Gus’ red top in the show and comic; at one point the deer boy wears a bright orange hunting jacket that looks a lot like the one Gus wears in third episode “Weird Deer S**t.”
After “Sugar’s” teen hero — credited as Man with Antlers on IMDb — catches the eye of a beautiful human girl, her father becomes infuriated. In the last section of the music video, the dad tries to kill the deer-boy with a fancy bow and arrow. In Sweet Tooth’s series premiere Gus is also almost murdered in the same fashion. Both would-be assailants are thwarted (albeit by very different methods).
Throughout “Sugar,” the camera repeatedly cuts back to the members of Fall Out Boy, who are playing in a cabin covered with taxidermied animals, including a very noticeable bear. Gus’ eventual road companion and friend is named Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen).
Despite all the thematic links between these projects, they’re all actually happy, emo accidents. When reached by email, Lemire confirmed the images from "Sugar We're Goin' Down" “were not an inspiration” and he hadn’t seen images from the video before this week. In fact, Lemire doesn’t listen to Fall Out Boy.