If you’ve ever wondered whether you want to have kids or not, Breeders may not be the best show to watch to help you decide. The show is painfully honest about the constant attention children need and the never-ending well of patience a person needs to have, a test most of us are destined to fail.
The show was created by Martin Freeman, Simon Blackwell and Chris Addison; Addison wrote most of the episodes and co-executive producer Ben Palmer directed the handful of episodes sent for review. Freeman also stars as Paul, who cares a lot about his kids and depends on his partner Ally (Daisy Haggard; Episodes, Back to Life). Ally runs a recording studio and has a dry wit and humor that matches Paul’s demeanor and quickly makes us understand why these two got together. In a refreshingly realistic note, we also see that they share the same sensibilities about how parenthood often makes them feel irritated, sad, and defeated.
Also in the mix as Paul and Ally juggle kids, their fulltime careers, aging parents, a mortgage, and bumps in their relationship are Ally’s estranged father Michael (Michael McKean) who suddenly appears on their doorstep. Because of his circumstances–he has no money or job–he winds up staying awhile. Then there’s Paul’s parents, Jackie (Joanna Bacon) and Jim (Alun Armstrong), who enjoy being grandparents and frequent babysitters for kids Luke and Ava but have a very different approach to child-rearing.
Where Breeders really shines is when it mines the trying and exasperating parenting moments and then goes a few layers deeper as Paul and Ally reveal to each other what’s really bothering them and what’s really important to them. The first episode vividly shows how any random night quickly becomes a sleepless one as they try to accomplish the task of getting their kids to go to sleep. In the second episode, Paul and Ally contemplate trying to get their kids into a better school and how that could impact the children’s future successes or failures. There’s a funny twist as Paul and Ally watch another family at the school try to do the same thing and how that brings out their sense of competition. Meanwhile, Paul’s parents are decluttering their flat after Jim takes a fall, and when Paul goes over to help them with that, they tell him they’re checking out old folk’s homes so they won’t be a burden to Paul and Ally.
The third episode revolves around injuries as Paul finds himself suspected of both elder and child abuse when his mother Jackie almost walks in front of an ambulance and he pulls her back to prevent that. And then, young Luke, who rushes down the stairs to get to the dinner table after his parents yell at him to hurry downstairs, falls; they rush him to the hospital where the same doctor who examined Jackie’s bruised arm also examines Luke’s injury, reminding Paul and Ally of the previous times they’ve brought Luke in for injuries. When the doctor tells them she’s going to have Child Services visit their home, the couple is dumbfounded and it makes them take a beat. The visit with the Child Services reps is awkward, honest, and once again, we really feel for Paul and Ally because their frustrations are obvious but so is their love for their kids. On top of all this, Ally’s father Michael is still staying with them and has zero prospects for work or anywhere else to live. Ally’s disdain for Michael (she does not call him “Dad”) is obvious, but they use him as a babysitter since he’s there and the kids like him. McKean gives a wonderfully understated performance as a man who has lived and played hard but has nothing substantial to show for himself. He also knows exactly how his daughter feels about him and, while he doesn’t try to make amends, he does try to help out in return for them letting him stay with them.
There are a couple big reveals in the emotional fourth episode, which looks back at the time after Ally had their daughter Ava and had post-partum depression. In this beautifully crafted episode, we again see how deeply Paul loves his wife and how that love makes him withhold information so as not to upset her.
At first glance, Breeders looks like a show that would make you ask why anyone in their right mind would ever want to have kids, but in each of the half-hours, there are moments that show why this couple made the choice to be together and why they cemented that choice by having children. Best of all, in each of the episodes screened for this review, we see that even when the relationship is tested, a strong foundation of love remains. Each episode feels like a slice of life, complete with laughs, tears, sarcasm, and life’s mundane chores and routines. In the hands of Freeman, Haggard, Blackwell and Addison, it makes for wry, amusing and relatable television.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good