As a childless twenty-something, the sight of parents struggling with their sprogs – no matter how innocent, how adorable – fills me with empathy, dread, and schadenfreude. These feelings amplify to entertained screeches when watching Breeders, Sky One’s new comedy about the undermentioned awfulness of child-rearing, created by Thick of It favourites Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell. Be warned: this could put you off having kids for a while. I haven’t felt such a staunch aversion to becoming a parent since watching Jenna Coleman carry a pram up those Sisyphean steps in BBC’s The Cry; the pain and aggravation looks like the most annoying kind of horror movie. Breeders, at least, finds the funny in the madness.
Martin Freeman, who plays fed-up father Paul, birthed the idea for the series in a dream about going upstairs to tell off his kids. This is the starting point, opening with Paul readying himself, in the middle of the night, to shout at his noisy offspring. He tries to talk himself out of it (“Don’t do this, mate … You scream, they cry, you hate yourself”), but it’s a necessary evil, a horrible duty of parenthood. What comes next, on the contrary, isn’t necessary at all, but it’s so, so understandable: Paul opens the bedroom door and unleashes an uproarious avalanche of expletives on his small, pre-teen children. A silence passes… then Paul apologises.
Freeman’s trademark Good Guy performance fights through, perfectly hitting every funny beat. His fury is surprising because of his previous choices of repressed characters – he really lets loose here. As a recent, slightly controversial interview with The Independent shows, that aggravation comes from a place that’s chaotically real.
Ally, the tired mother, is more sensible and mature in her approach. Daisy Haggard (Back to Life) enjoyably delivers her character’s self-confidence with infectious spirit, while revealing her general unhappiness in short bursts. Ally rarely backs down, especially when her kids are concerned. In episode two, when she and Paul look with contempt at parents who seem to have their shit together, she says with unquestionable truth: “We are best”. You can’t help but laugh and cheer for the two of them; they’re relatable, funny, and tragic all at once.
Breeders cuts through the usual societal and spiritual positivity towards parenthood, creating something more realistically human. Paul and Ally aren’t neglectful or abusive (the series wouldn’t work otherwise), they’re just having trouble keeping a lid on their frustrations. Blackwell, Addison, and director Ben Palmer capture those constant, gnawing anxieties that inevitably and inappropriately explode – it’s a pulsing appreciation for even half-decent parenting. The first episode mostly examines that dread, with sun-soaked, childless memories drifting in and out like a fairytale tide, but episode two expands on their parental sense of duty as they weigh up school options. They care; they want the best for their kids.
Breeders is a hilarious, nauseous experience, one that makes you admire and appreciate those parents on the brink of insanity – giving a visual voice to their darker thoughts.