How Breeders tells the truth about parenting

Posted on 05 May, 2022



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 “Most of my time with my kids is delightful and fun, and I’m sure it is for all of us, but the stuff that isn’t and the stuff that we show in the show is very real. It allows people license to feel how they feel”

Armando Iannucci on Deadline

That’s how Armando Iannucci sees Breeders, a unique show about parenting. And the truth behind it.

Shaken home

Set in London but co-produced by FX and Sky, Breeders is an American-British parental dark comedy created by Martin Freeman (Sherlock, Fargo), Chris Addison (The Thick of It) and Simon Blackwell. The series follows two struggling parents, based in part on Freeman’s own experiences. He plays the father Paul, the main character, along with Daisy Haggard as the mom, Ally.

What happens on the show is what parenting is all about. Tempers explode, children behave badly, sleep is limited, opinions are barely tolerated, privacy is non-existent, romance is dead and false smiles are perfected in public. This mix could happen in every regular family. Breeders chooses to portray it – and the truth behind it – through an honest tale that only makes it more evident.

Paul is a loving father and full of good intentions, but he’s not always able to understand what their children go through. Especially with his firstborn Luke (George Wakeman), and the consequences of his rage with Eva (Eve Prenelle), his little girl. On the other side, there’s Ally: she needs to find her own balance in the family every time Paul happens to shake it up.

Real as things are

The family: a premise that apparently contains all the useful elements to unleash comedy, as audiences are used to. But a recent shift is gravitating towards modern family representations, abandoning the happy but dysfunctional sitcoms of the past. Series such as The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle have paved the way with their depiction of loose parenting skills, always attenuating plausibility with extravagant humor. Parenting often pairs up with being an “idiot” dad, which is what Breeders avoids.

Similarly to Trying, Breeders represents two good people who – when faced with a lot of familiar pressure – can’t really handle their anger. The very first episode shows itself for what it really is: a family drama disguised as comedy. Episode after episode, it reveals its true nature pushing the viewer to confront complex characters. They all are faithful mirrors, not conciliators, of our behaviors, while solving or ignoring the arising problems around them.

The clever use of flashbacks scattered throughout the seasons also shows Paul and Ally’s relationship. At the beginning, like all couples, they had dreams, plans and ideas. But then life came, forcing them to confront reality, and make compromises for the common good, especially that of their children. This recipe makes the show even more melancholic, if not poignant. What really matters is getting to the end of the day knowing you’ve done everything you can. Even when it might not be enough.

Truth above all

What amplifies the trajectory of Breeders, though, is the ability to bring the characters to life and extend the discourse. Inadequacy is the initial core, together with the fear of not being the parents we thought we could be. But then the series widens the field with ambition and disappointment, inside the bodies of growing children and aging parents. In the end, it all seems an excuse to share a daily struggle: trying to understand how to be adults.

Breeders can be straightforward in a particular, recognizable British way. In the same way After Life is, maybe even braver. What Ricky Gervais does is poke fun at death and irony on his loss, which is really difficult to do. But the theme he chooses is extreme and already exploited by tv shows. Breeders, on the contrary, touches a delicate part of life that has always been represented in one and only way: by showing the joy of it. Britcoms have always been criticized for their cruelness but, in this case, it’s that exact element what makes the show real.

Breeders was nominated at the 2021 BAFTA Awards and won the Best Comedy at the 2020 Venice TV Award. And as a consequence, season 3 will debut in 2022.


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