Netflix’s series Sweet Tooth, based on the popular DC Comics/Vertigo comic book by creator Jeff Lemire and produced by Susan and Robert Downey, Jr.’s company Team Downey, debuted in 2021 to widespread acclaim, both from viewers and critics. Sweet Tooth features a timely tale of a populace contending with a worldwide pandemic known as “The Sick.” While neither the comic nor the series originated during the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, its themes echo throughout the show.
As a result of The Sick, much of the world’s people were decimated, while some children were born as human/animal hybrids, resulting in prejudice and panic. One of those hybrids is Gus, a nine-year-old human/deer hybrid who finds himself partnered with Tommy Jepperd, who Gus refers to as “Big Man,” who, in turn, calls Gus “Sweet Tooth.” After Gus’ father passed away, Gus and Jepperd find themselves paired together as Gus looks for his mother, a road that will take them on a journey filled with action, danger, and self-discovery.
Ahead of the premiere of Sweet Tooth season 2, I had the opportunity to speak with Team Downey Vice President and Sweet Tooth producer Evan Moore about the process of bringing the series to life, how shooting the show in New Zealand helped inform the tone that the production team was aiming for, the relationships between characters we can expect to this season, and how Sweet Tooth is about hope.
FreakSugar: Sweet Tooth is a wonderful comic. What was the process like of you and Team Downey making the series a reality?
Evan Moore: It was quite the journey. It was something we read and all really sparked to. It was at a time where we were trying to get into TV more. We all felt that the emotional storytelling in Jeff Lemire’s comics was so incredible. We had heard through the grapevine that [series showrunner and executive producer] Jim Mickle had always been a fan of it and had originally thought of it as a feature at one point. We met with him and he was interested. To make a long story short, he ultimately decided to craft a really compelling pitch for it which we thought was wonderful and inspired. I think the most important thing was that we all saw the same show at the end of the day.
When we talked about turning it into a TV show, it was amidst The Walking Dead and The Leftovers, all great shows in their own right. But we saw an opportunity to focus a show though Gus’ lens and really do something that felt more hopeful and optimistic and show the beauty of life. And we wanted lush colors and exist in nature, with nature reclaiming the world and a celebration of that.
So we were fortunate enough to originally set it up at Hulu, but they, unfortunately, couldn’t move forward with it after we shot the pilot in 2019 in New Zealand. I think they had just been bought by Disney. But we were able to find a new home at Netflix, who completely got the show and saw our aspirations for it. At that point, we were off to the races. We then shot the rest of the season—in the midst of COVID, actually, in 2020, which was very surreal. It was strange. What’s funny is how timely it became. So many things that just felt like such a fantasy world or a dream world became a reality to the point, leading up to the release of season 1, we were worried that there might be a bit of COVID and pandemic fatigue. Luckily, the much more hopeful tone of everything took everyone by surprise and was welcomed with open arms. That was very heartening to see. Once that came out, we were lucky enough to get a season 2 and it was a pleasure to return to that world and get back down to New Zealand and work with the amazing team down there again.
FS: It’s interesting you mention the lush feel of the world of Sweet Tooth because that’s something I’ve heard from other viewers. It’s a post-apocalyptic world and there are harrowing, panicky, edge-of-your-seat moments, but it feels hopeful. There are more COVID-related stories emerging, but Sweet Tooth feels different than all of them.
EM: Absolutely. I was lucky enough to go to New Zealand for all of production. So much of the beauty of New Zealand informed the show, so it’s something we leaned into. New Zealand is so stunning and beautiful that it helped reinforce themes we’d baked in to the pilot script. The citizens are so environmentally conscious and live among beautiful nature. A lot of Kiwis have families and crave and cultivate a work-life balance that we don’t always have in the States. I think all of that helped inform and double-down on the story’s lyrical and uplifting nature. That tone helped the cinematic quality of the series.
FS: With the success of season 1, have you been able to broaden your horizons in terms of production between seasons 1 and 2?
EM: That’s a great question. I think a huge thing was just being able to have the same crew down there to solidify what we were doing and have a proof of concept. We had the pilot, but having a whole season and being able to have that to show the whole crew and knowing what were making was really invaluable. It helped to recapture the cinematic experience we had with season 1 and ramp that up in season 2. Beyond that, just the trust between Jim and us and the studio and the network. We were able to show that this is done well and there’s an audience for it so we were told to trust our instincts. It helped us to be able to push things in a bigger way; to push the character stories; to double down on emotional journeys. I think everyone responded to that in season 1, so the trust we got allowed us to push things further.
FS: Were there challenges that arose in production that gave you opportunities to approach telling your story in a novel way?
EM: There were certainly challenges. As we wound season 1 down, you certainly would come to storytelling points where you are worried about the effects that you might have down the road, but you want to make the end of the season as strong as possible. One big example was separating Gus and Jepperd at the end of season 1, which we felt narratively and thematically needed to happen. At the jump of season 2, it became this thing of how long can we keep the two apart because we knew how important their relationship is. It’s such a core dynamic of the show and it’s something that we think and hope that audiences will be craving to get them back.
So I think the challenges of that specifically present great opportunities. You get to see Jepperd and Amy together for the first time. What is that going to illuminate for both their characters? And you have Gus in very close proximity to General Abbot so what new storytelling and character journey moments is that going to allow for Gus? I think that was able to work more into the coming of age story for Gus specifically. Now he’s in a much more dire place than he was before in season 1. It’ll help show more growth and maturity for him because he’s almost in the lion’s den with the villain for most of the season. We get to see how that pushes him in a new way and helps him be a leader and continue that coming-of-age journey.
Sweet Tooth season 2 premieres Thursday, April 27th, on Netflix. Check back Monday for more insight on season 2 from Evan Moore!