The following story contains spoilers for Sweet Tooth Season 1.
When we talk about Netflix’s new post-apocalyptic action/adventure/fantasy series Sweet Tooth, we’re probably first going to talk about the main attraction: the hybrids. Yes, the entire premise of the show centers on a plague devastating humanity that arrives just as the presence of some half-human/half-animal beings begin to be born (That’s where Gus/Sweet Tooth, our titular character comes in). We may next talk about Jepperd, played by Game of Thrones star Nonso Anozie, who, at 6’6” lives up to every inch of his on-screen “Big Man” nickname. But the heart of the show comes not from a mythical being or a massive warrior, but from just a regular guy named Richard, or, as Gus calls him, Pubba.
Pubba, which is of course a cutesy little nickname for Papa, only shows up in three of Sweet Tooth‘s eight episodes, but he comes with such an immense warmth that it almost feels like it sets the rest of the show up for the optimistic, feel-good fairy tale that it becomes. We’re dropped into the Sweet Tooth world with little context, just seeing Pubba (played marvelously by former SNL star Will Forte, who has a bit of post-apocalyptic TV experience of his own playing a huge asshole in the vastly underrated Last Man On Earth) raising Gus in the woods. The two have a loving relationship, clearly, but we don’t see it for long; before the first episode of Sweet Tooth is over, Pubba is no longer among the living.
We feel for Gus in this moment, despite only just being dropped into his world. We feel his strain as he realizes he has no choice but to break the rules his father made, the rules he’s lived his entire life by. But with his father gone, and a clue about his “mother,” Birdie—who he knows is in Colorado—he’s got a new goal. And if he’s got to break a rule to do it, well, so be it.
And if Forte’s role as Pubba was limited to just his time in that first episode as sort of an entry to the story for Gus, that would be fine! But it’s in Episode 7, “When Pubba Met Birdie,” that the character really gets fleshed out. We see to his past—his real name is Richard Fox—and he worked at a lab where experiments were done every day, including, as we learn eventually, the one that resulted in Gus’s birth and the beginning of the hybrids.
Forte brings an awkward but charming and innocent nature for a character that probably could have gone in a few different directions. After all, in the first episode, we see him grab a large syringe for protection; we see the henchmen of the evil General Abbot use the same syringe to murder a woman later in the series.
But Episode 7 makes it plainly clear: Pubba, or Richard Fox, is a good guy. And the Birdie we see in a photograph—who, in a darker show may have not existed, or been some sort of stalker-ish crush—is someone he knew. And it is someone he had a real connection with. And it is someone who will be thrilled to hear from Gus eventually—and thrilled to hear that he’s alive. So often with shows like this, shows are left hoping for something that eventually pulls the rug out from beneath them. But here, Forte simply plays an awkward guy who found himself in a weird situation, and just went with it. Because it felt right.
It’s perhaps one of the starkest changes from Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth comic to the big screen; while Father/Richard Fox (“Pubba” is only for the Netflix show) also dies early on in the comic, he’s later revealed to be….kind of a crackpot. And the mother that Gus thought he had never existed at all. By making Richard into a nice guy—and having someone with Will Forte’s natural charm play him—Sweet Tooth is helping the source material match the sweet, fantastical, post-apocalyptic tone that its adaptation went for.
By the end of the series, it may seem like we’ve seen all we’re going to see from Richard/Pubba. We saw his death, we saw his status quo, and we saw him meet Birdie, and end up with Gus. Still, though, there are plenty of memories from Richard’s 9-10 years with Gus that we haven’t seen—and, thus, plenty of reasons for more Pubba scenes in a potential Season 2 (or 3, or 4) of Sweet Tooth.
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