Having Children Inspires Madness in Hilariously Dark ‘Breeders’
No one ever said parenting was easy but in FX’s “Breeders” it’s absolute hell. Most dramedies and sitcoms like to deal with how love is painful, but this acidly hilarious offering gets blunt about how raising kids takes its own toll, at least on a particular kind of couple. The focus is not one of those young, struggling couples who’ve decided to become parents. These are middle-aged partners attempting to continue careers while sustaining a middle class life and rearing offspring.
Paul (Martin Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard) are parents to Luke (George Wakeman) and Ava (Jayda Eyles), who are both under seven. Paul and Ally live quite comfortably, except for the parenting part which requires they get up at all hours, especially when Luke becomes obsessed with a fear of an imagined house fire. It gets to the point where the two have to time their sleeping cycles. Ava in particular needs rest since she’s also running a recording studio. Life doesn’t relent however and a new addition comes to the house in the form of Ally’s estranged father, Michael (Michael McKean) drops in and makes himself at home. Paul gets little relief with help from his parents, Jackie (Joanna Bacon) and Jim (Alun Armstrong), considering they come from another generation with a totally different way of doing things. Mix in usual couple tensions and Paul is ready to explode while Ally tries to keep her cool.
Created by Freeman along with Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell, the latter two having also worked on HBO’s great “Veep,” this show functions like a wicked antidote to all those postcard perfect families you get on network dramedies. In a sense Paul and Ally are two of the most real parents we’ve seen on television in ages, probably since “Mad About You” in the 90’s. Their plight is nearly a metaphor for how adult life is rarely fun when you’re overloaded with responsibilities and commitments. The writing rarely cops out. In an early scene where Luke and Ava are up making loud noise at night Paul bursts in and delivers a cuss storm, almost as if he were in some kind of divorce situation he threatens to just leave. Typically this would be a hallucination, one of those “if only” scenes, but here it’s not. He really does chew out the kids. Later there’s a flashback relatable to any childless viewer where Paul at a restaurant witnesses two other parents stress out over dealing with a rowdy child. “Breeders” is about when it’s your turn.
There are several layers to this series. Parenting isn’t the only issue, it’s the driving theme that reveals everything else such as generational gaps and the contradictions of being a middle class breeder. Paul and Ally embody a common trend these days in having kids later in life once or if you’re lucky enough to be economically stable. Their collected stress has more to do with how two kids are intruding in their lives as well as elderly parents who suddenly need care as well. There’s also the question of how one generation feels left unprepared by the previous one. In one of the season premiere’s best scenes, Paul gets real with his father about how he feels he never learned a thing growing up about dealing with conflict or proper disciplining.
Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard are a perfect match. They have serene exteriors that can suddenly snap and also evoke educated professionals who are left baffled by the challenge of a child frightened by their nightmares. The two are allowed to bask in some slapstick as well to relieve the tension. Paul confronts two neighbors making too much noise at night who mock him for looking 60 (“I’m mid-forties!”) and screams he’ll kill them both, which prompts another neighbor to suspect Paul is butchering his family. It’s not all gloom. Paul also has rather endearing moments with his offspring, assuring them there is no fire and that his and Ally’s job is to protect the home.
“Breeders” features the kind of dark humor that can sometimes work as a tonic. It’s blunt about the things other shows would never dare say, or most us for that matter. It has an acute sense of the sheer terror that comes with the experience of parenting, even when a parent truly loves their little ones. It will inspire knowing nods from those already undergoing the trials of raising another human being, and possibly make others feel relief at still being responsible for no one but themselves.
“Breeders” season one premieres March 2 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.