Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell of Team Downey on Sweet Tooth season 2

by W. Andrew Powell
Sweet Tooth season 2

Sweet Tooth is the touching, poignant, and often funny series about a young, half-human and half-deer boy, who is trying to find a family and a community in a post-apocalyptic world.

Based on Jeff Lemire’s graphic novels of the same name, the second season brings young Gus, played by Christian Convery, to a new point in his life where he’s found others like himself, even as they have to deal with the threat of the Last Men who captured them.

What makes Sweet Tooth so compelling is the depth of this beautiful, broken world, and the lives of the characters. It’s rich and sweet, and it’s easy to get swept away in the journey of the characters, including the other hybrids, and caring humans like Jepperd, played by Nonso Anozie.

Produced by Team Downey, which was founded by Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey, with president of production Amanda Burrell, Sweet Tooth has a unique style and vision, and I had a chance to speak with Susan and Amanda about what made it special for them, and how they approached season two.

Sweet Tooth season 2 is streaming on Netflix now, and the third and final season will launch in 2024. Read the full interview with Susan Downey and Amanda Burrel below.

Christian Convery as Gus, Naledi Murray as Wendy in Sweet Tooth
Christian Convery as Gus, Naledi Murray as Wendy in Sweet Tooth

Coming into this project, what made the series special to you?

Susan Downey: It’s a good question. I think, honestly, it scared me a little bit. You know, Jeff Lemire, the source material that he created had such important things to say, but he did it in a much darker context. And I think for us, we loved this wild thing of what the hybrids represent and this different way of exploring otherness and family and all of these wonderful themes.

But we wanted to do it through more of a lens of hope than anything that was a traditional kind of dystopian future. So we worked with Jeff, with [showrunner] Jim Mickle, and came up with what we call the storybook dystopia, which is filled with much more wonder, much more positivity. There’s still dark forces there, and there’s still people with bad intentions.

Once we got Jeff on board with that and he felt like, ‘okay, this is the way to deliver it to the largest audience, to a family audience,’ then I think we calmed down.

Amanda and I talk about this all the time, where we looked at each other like, ‘What are we doing here? This is like a boy show. Like, what is this?’ But therein lies the opportunity and the excitement.

Amanda, do you have anything to add to that? And also, how do you think of season two? Where did you see the opportunity to add to what you created in season one?

Amanda Burrell: This project is so special because I think we really cracked a code and Jim really cracked the code, and the amazing cast and crew… we were able to achieve in season one and a tone that’s so specific and unique to our show.

It was, honestly, really inspiring. We were like, ‘We have to do more.’

It feels like once you crack that code, you feel poised and ready. And our entire cast was so ready to come back. So by season two, it was really about all the things that we loved about season one, all that like big heart emotion, those feelings that kind of envelop an audience and bring them into a kind of very unusual world.

But we also thought, ‘How can we milk it even more?’ I think that the stakes are so much higher. [Last Men General] Abbott [played by Neil Sandilands] is so much more clearly focused on an objective that I think is going to frighten audiences in a big way.

So I think we just understood in a real way, especially with the audience engagement, what we got so right in season one and then got to really lean into it to expand in season two.

Well, in terms of the practical side of the series, it’s fascinating because there are so many details like Gus’ practical deer ears. And in season two, you’ve added quite a bit more practical effects. What was that conversation like and why did you choose practical?

Susan Downey: It was really a philosophy that Jim had in terms of wanting to embrace as much practical and puppetry as we could get away with. And I think there was a bit of a learning curve in season one, as far as where it worked and where we would break either direction, either practical or using visual effects.

So coming into the design phase of season two, as well as revisiting Gus and what worked best and not, we had a ton of conversations knowing that you’re probably always going to have to do a layer of visual effects over to smooth out any bumps. But as much as we could get the authenticity of these hybrids in their space actually reacting to the things like their appendages or their abilities, it was going to give us something that felt the most real in a way that if it’s everything against dots and green screen, you just don’t get that kind of authenticity.

But, again, it was a bit of a a learning curve from season one and just applying that to season two.

Amanda Burrell: Yeah, I think that the thing that was so surprising to all of us when we were on set too, once we invited these puppeteers into our world, which was not something that Jim or I, or anybody really had a ton of experience with, in New Zealand they really do have a lot of that experience. And the fact that you could bring these humans into this process to imbue humanity in these inanimate objects was like, it was so delightful for us, even just like you would be on set sitting there watching as Grant [Lehmann], who does Gus’ ears, would just find a moment and you would be like, it felt infectious and we knew that surprise with that intangible vibration when filmmaking is working; it just adds to that.

But to Susan’s point, it was always in Jim’s heart. It was why he really connected to this project. The [Jim] Henson stuff, Willow, that he talks about, all of that, but then to see it in person, and in season two–because we had had assembled these incredible artists there, these puppeteers–it’s just breathtaking the way that they’re able to do this. We just were like, let’s go. Let’s double down. You know?

What would you say that Team Downey brings to this series? Or what is Team Downey’s purpose when you’re working on a series? Because I love what you’ve done with Perry Mason; I think it’s it’s ingenious. So what what does it mean for you to take on a series?

Susan Downey: I think for us, in all the things that we do, we look for incredible character driven stories that allow us to build out a world, whether it is historic Los Angeles or the sort of future world that you find in Sweet Tooth. And then within that delivers something that gets a wide audience, and gives you something to talk about.

It’s trying to say something, but kind of hidden inside something that’s hopefully first and foremost entertaining. So I think for us with this, we make the things that we want to see, that we want to watch, and fortunately, our tastes in terms of genre is fairly wide, which is good; where we’re not specific to one genre or the other.

But it’s like, is it entertaining? Is it beautiful and do you feel like you’ve been shot through a portal into a new world? And do we care about these characters? Those are the fundamental questions. And again, the great thing with genre, whether it’s a great mystery or in this case, what we’re doing with Sweet Tooth, you get to see so much more hidden inside of that.

Amanda Burrell: Yeah, and I would just add, that for us, we know what our job is, which is to bring a collection of artists together with great material and support them and build them up and make them free to do crazy stuff, which I think, our job is to protect them and assemble the right team.

So I feel like that’s always our goal, and when we start from the beginning, it’s like every step along the way is how do we bring in the right alchemy to create something we’re all really excited about.

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