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How the new Martin Freeman FX comedy ‘Breeders’ hits the absurdity of perfection in modern parenting

Showrunner Simon Blackwell trades the politics of ‘Veep’ for the trials of parenthood and finds the funny in 21st-century parental guilt.

How the new Martin Freeman FX comedy ‘Breeders’ hits the absurdity of perfection in modern parenting
(Left to right) Joanna Bacon as Jackie, Martin Freeman as Paul, and Daisy Haggard as Ally in Breeders. [Photo: Miya Mizuno/FX]
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He doesn’t want to do it. The kids are making a ton of noise upstairs, he’s downstairs trying to work, and now Martin Freeman is talking himself down so he doesn’t storm up there and unleash a f-bomb barrage of barbaric proportions on his two young kids. “You’re better than this,” he says as he marches up the stairs. “You don’t have to do it. Don’t do it, don’t do it.” He gets to the top of the stairs, opens the bedroom door, and . . . he really, really does it.

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That scene in the first episode of the new FX comedy Breeders first came to Freeman as a dream, and what prompted him to call writers Simon Blackwell (Veep, The Thick of It, The Loop) and Chris Addison (The Thick of It, The Loop) was the fact that he hadn’t ever seen that version of parenting on a TV comedy. “We started just talking about being dads and about there being no real blueprint for being a dad,” says showrunner Blackwell, who wrote five episodes of the first season. “You have no guide really. So we were talking about what we thought we did well as fathers, but also a lot about what we did badly and our failures, and how we felt about those failures.”

(Left to right) Michael McKeon as Michael, Jayda Eyles as Ava, Daisy Haggard as Ally, and George Wakeman as Luke in Breeders. [Photo: Miya Mizuno/FX]
Nobody’s perfect.

Except your baby, of course.

Your new baby is perfection personified, not yet contaminated by the world.

Or, more specifically, fouled up by how you as a parent will prepare them for it.

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Parenting culture has progressed over the last century or so from just trying to make sure a kid remains alive to tolerating them as family accessories to serving as their Lego buddy. In other words, parental responsibilities have evolved from keeping children from factory work at age 10 to making sure they’re home before the street lights come on to being their TikTok dance partner. Culture has never been more kid-centric than it is now, and, regardless how you feel about that, along with it comes increased pressure to succeed at parenting. To both live up to an unrealistic and largely undefined general ideal, while also specifically setting your child up to be their best selves as adults.

Breeders is a hilariously raw look at that façade of modern parenting.

The show follows parents Paul (Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard) as they raise their young children, deal with aging parents, and aim to maneuver through the ups and downs of middle age, marriage, and careers. On the face of it, it’s the basic premise of most family comedies—from Family Ties, to Black-ish and Modern Family.

However, there is a darker undercurrent here that adds an edge to the typical sitcom setup.

On the surface, aside from the f-bombs, there isn’t a lot connecting political satire like Veep and this new show, but Blackwell says that both are essentially about how people react under pressure. One is the pressure of elected office, the other is procreation. “What I’m interested in is that there is an ideal of what you want to be as a parent. You want to take this human being and launch him or her into the world, and you want to do it perfectly, but you can’t and you will fail,” says Blackwell. “It’s interesting to see someone trying to avoid those failures, but in the same way that a political career will always end in failure, so will your parenting. It’s just what level of failure you achieve.”

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(Left to right) Jayda Eyles as Ava, George Wakeman as Luke, and Martin Freeman as Paul in Breeders. [Photo: Miya Mizuno/FX]
Blackwell has two sons, now in their 20s, and it’s not the wins he remembers. “If you can get through it and your kids still like you when they’re in their twenties—touch wood, I think mine do—then you’ve done okay,” he says. “But when I look back now [to] when my kids were little, I kind of only remember the times I screwed up, the times when I wasn’t the kind of father I would like to be, and I think that’s universal for people and audiences.”

Breeders doesn’t rush you into liking its main characters. The pilot is full of great lines and laughs, but there’s not a lot of connection with Paul and Ally. You’re not sure if they like each other. You’re not sure if they like their kids. You’re not sure if you like any of them. But as the show progresses through its first five episodes, through both circumstance and creative use of flashbacks to how their relationship began, that cool initial connection thaws significantly.

Blackwell hopes that it also allows those parents or parents-to-be in the audience to loosen the yoke of guilt that so often comes with being a parent in 2020. “You want to be perfect for your kids, because when they’re born, you just think, well, I’m going to do everything I can to give this human being the best possible life,” he says. “And sometimes, you’re shouting at them and that’s not giving them the best possible life. Your circumstances dictate that you find yourself in difficult situations sometimes. You’re flawed, and they’re flawed, and you have a flawed interaction. But if we didn’t, you know, there’d be no psychotherapists. No one gets to 18 and thinks, ‘You know, that was a perfect charter. Thank you.’ When their kids leave home, no parent thinks, ‘I absolutely aced that. If I was being scored at the Parenting Olympics, they’d be holding up 10s.’ We want to relate to the fact that you will fail, but if you mitigate the failure with trying to do the best you can, you’ll probably get some decent human beings out the other end.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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