Police shows aside, the family sitcom is probably the most popular type of television program in the medium’s history. That’s probably because it’s the most recognizable; while legal dramas, police shows and fantasy can all provide winning entertainment, hardly anything in the world is more recognizable than both the joys and headaches of the family. Breeders is unique in the television landscape in that it lays the groundwork for this type of sitcom and deliberately undermines it in surprising ways.
Breederson FX, begins as one of many contemporary sitcoms about marriage and parenthood (Catastrophe, Better Things, Parenthood, Motherland, Modern Family, etcetera to infinity). It starts with frustrated husband Paul (Martin Freeman) and tired wife Ally (Daisy Haggard) discussing how to put the kids to bed after waking up in the middle of the night. They make a dark joke about killing their kids, which isn’t far from the sarcastic side of many frustrated TV parents, but it soon becomes clear that this isn’t just a witty retort to elicit laughter. These parents are as real as fiction gets.
Breeders are made by parents, but for everyone
Main co-star Haggard, a mother of two, recalls reading for this scene, “which was like a couple passive-aggressively discussing who would get up the next time the kid woke up,” as she describes it. . “It was very, very familiar territory. So me and my husband actually read it on the self-tape, and we had a giggle because we thought, ‘I think we might have done this last night.’ So I felt like it sounds very natural to read, if that makes sense. It didn’t feel too soft and that was what I was experiencing at the time.”
Part of the naturalism of Breeders derives from its origin. Freeman developed the idea for the show after becoming a father himself, having a nightmare of trying not to yell at his kids, but do it anyway. Breederswhich recently debuted its third season and received much acclaim, goes way beyond that simple dream (with beautiful character arcs portraying the reality of being human in the modern world), but uses this idea to appeal universally and not just to the parents in the audience .
As Freeman tells us, “It’s unable to stop you from going crazy with anger and frustration, even if you try to talk yourself down every step of the way, but something in you isn’t able to stop yourself, too.” though you know it’s a bad idea.” At its core, it’s about the monsters in all of us, and how, no matter how hard we try, we can never really kill them for good. This is his darkness; the faint hope is that, with grace and patience, a family of monsters can learn to love and forgive one another.
Freeman and Haggard take inspiration from parenthood
Of course, if you are a parent, Breeders is absolutely necessary to watch. It resonates so strongly not only because Freeman is a father, but also because everyone in the writer’s room is also a parent, along with main co-star Haggard. Haggard had even just given birth to her second child when she auditioned for the part, which she says hilariously:
For the first audition, I did a self-tape really angrily because I also had a newborn baby, and it was in a car seat, and I rocked her with my foot thinking angrily, ‘Why am I auditioning? I just had a baby. This is ridiculous. I do not have it.’ And my other daughter was watching some horrible cartoon in the background. Then I got a call back and I went in […] just so tired and exhausted, like, “I shouldn’t be thinking about work,” but somehow it might have been the magic ingredient.
Few TV shows have represented the honest exhaustion and annoyance of parenthood Breeders has, and Haggard and Freeman (along with the writers’ room) no doubt draw on their personal experiences as parents in the process. It’s hard enough being a parent but also being a busy and successful actor like Freeman (Sherlock, Fargo, The Hobbit, The Office) and Haggard (Psychoville, Back to Life, Hildacountless British comedy shows), seems even more challenging.
Making the show not only seems to help parents in the audience feel heard, but also allows the cast and crew to work through parenting itself. Freeman compares early encounters with co-creators Simon Blackwell (Veep, the thick of it) and Chris Addison (The crowds, the thick of it) as a sort of men’s self-help group for fathers. Haggard’s own children are younger than her on-screen children (who age after a time jump between seasons); “I always say about Breeders that because my kids are so much younger,” she says, “I’m looking ahead [at my children’s future] and sometimes going, ‘Oh no, is this coming for me on my journey as a mother?'” She continues:
You have children inside, as you say [in the U.S.] diapers or diapers, and then you think, ‘Oh, when I get through that, it’ll be much easier.’ And Breeders is like, no, no, no. Because then you have these new problems, and these new wonderful moments. So it can be pretty daunting even realizing now what it would be like to have teenagers because I have a seven year old and a four year old so I’m in such a different zone.
Freeman’s kids are a bit older now, old enough to watch the show with him. It may seem surprising to show your kids a series you made about them playing an impatient father with anger issues, but it was an interesting experience for the Freeman family. He says:
They thought it was funny, and they found it quite poignant. They want to know, especially my son actually, he really wants to know what’s coming. What’s about to happen between Luke and Paul. This father-son dynamic got completely out of hand at the end of series two, when Luke, the teenage boy, beats his father and draws blood. Yes, he really wants to know what happens next. I think last night they said half-jokingly that I owed them commission because… [Breeders] would never get there if they weren’t my kids, which is true, but they don’t get any money.
Haggard’s daughter is less positive about the show; although she is too young to have seen it, she did catch a glimpse of the script. “She just suddenly shows up with this look of absolute rage,” Haggard laughs, “with a script with a rude word in it and just like, ‘Is this your job?’ […] I can’t believe you’re teaching us not to say these words.”
‘TV is a liar’, but breeders tell the truth
It may seem strange to call a family comedy “gripping,” but that’s exactly what Breeders is. It’s a dark comedy, but it’s also often an edge-of-seat drama about the damage we do to ourselves and each other, about nature versus nurture, cycles of violence, and how easily love breeds anger and resentment. It ties in well with Freeman’s desire to find dark roles by rejecting “nice guy” parts.
“We were interested in making it because we were all dads,” Freeman says, referring to Blackwell and Addison, “we all have kids that we love, but we also got the idea that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you don’t get all bloated by it. Quite the contrary, very often. The more you love someone, be it your parents or your kids or your spouse, you know, they can drive you to destruction in the next breath.”
To convey this profound truth about the human condition within the confines of a family comedy, the cast and crew (who are all extremely funny people) had to go against some of their instinctive comedic urges to be as honest and authentic about parenting as possible. . Sometimes Freeman literally told the writer’s room to be fewer funny.
Haggard recently went through something similar, which makes her a great show Back to life as melancholic and heartbreaking as it is funny. That show and Breeders point towards a sort of “sadcom” that takes on the trappings of sitcom but uses them to explore deeper existential themes like depression and personal trauma like substance use disorder (as seen in depressing comedies like Bojack Rider, Rick and Morty, and much more).
“From its conception,” Freeman says, “[we thought] wouldn’t it be interesting if you could make a comedy show that was still a comedy show, but go as dark as possible within those parameters? And it’s not, you know, it’s not a traumatic drama, it’s still comedy, but it’s going as dark as it can go.” Freeman goes on to describe the uniqueness of Breeders perfect:
I’d seen family comedy shows where it was basically ‘You little rascal, wait till I get your hands on you’, something like that, but not with real conversations and real freakouts happening in my life and in my life as a kid too. […] I think Paul and Ally love their kids. They also get distracted sometimes, and to me that has never really felt like a conflict, and it’s never felt like a contradiction.
I think TV is sometimes a liar, we are lied to there. You know what I mean? It’s like we all know how everyone grew up. I don’t know a single person who grew up without voices being raised, without doors being slammed, and without threats. And very often without anyone being touched, although I know plenty of people who would be touched very often by parents they now love and respect. And again, this isn’t a manifesto to yell at your kids, it’s just an admission that life is more complicated than the Brady Bunch.
The third season of Breeders currently airs on FX at 10pm EST Monday nights, and the first two seasons can be streamed on Hulu. It is not to be missed.