Series such as “Workin’ Moms,” “SMILF” or “The Let Down” have used some of the crasser emotions and situations that come with raising tiny humans for comedic effect, yet they’re largely told through the maternal lens. But “Breeders” could be the first of the new class to put parenting itself on equal footing by delving into the (sometimes rage-filled) challenges that transform both sides of a loving couple — no social media filter required.
“We wanted a show that was pretty even-handed between the father and the mother. We didn’t want that familiar trope of the father being a completely chaotic numbskull and the wife basically being his mother,” says series co-creator and star Martin Freeman. “Coming in, tidying up after him and just going, ‘Oh, you boys,’ and looking sort of disapproving. There may be some truth in that, but I was not interested to do another one of those.”
“Breeders” revolves on Paul (Freeman) and his wife Ally (Daisy Haggard), a middle class couple juggling feelings of anger and stress but also deep-seated love that comes with raising a 7-year-old and a 4-year old. Swearing, blind rage, and the eternal struggle of trying to convince others (and yourself) that you’ve got it all together all factor into the premiere episode for the onscreen couple.
“They’re quite balanced in their relationship,” says Haggard. “This felt like a real relationship balance that I could recognize. They’re not stereotypical — they’re a real couple and that appealed to me. Their relationship felt unique and true to them. They wanted their relationship to work and they manage to make it work, but it isn’t always going to be easy.”
Martin created the 10-episode show alongside Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell following his own experiences raising two children, marking the first time he’s transitioned from acting to series architect. It’s those raw experiences he and his creative partners (also fathers) leaned into in order to tell this story, making this the most personal project the 48-year-old has ever worked on.
“It doesn’t tip over into being actually traumatic, but it should ring bells as far as the things that don’t make you proud as a parent — the things that you don’t even necessarily bring up at dinner parties. We decided to bring it up on TV instead,” he says. “If you are a parent, that’s the most important thing you’re going to do in your life. So it’s pretty reasonable that we should be looking at that in a nuanced way, rather than too anodyne or to televisual. The thing is that there’s a side of parenting that we want to present when we’re out with our kids or when we’re talking to people about our kids.”
In doing press for the series Martin has been equally honest, revealing in one interview that he’s smacked his kids in the past (highlighting his own parental flaws). The quote went viral in the negative sense that Freeman’s sarcastic admission that he’d “do it again” was taken out of context, proving how difficult it can be for many parents — especially fathers — to feel as though they can be honest about the struggles.
“I mean it is a bit frightening. It’s not like I say those things and expect everyone to give me a parent of the year award, you know?” Freeman says. “But I do think it’s fair to be honest. That’s what the show is about. There’d be no show if it wasn’t about trying to deal with the up and down nature of what it is to be a parent.”
“When I first had a baby I was Googling how to get the baby to sleep and we were just completely overwhelmed because it’s all there but there are just so many opposing views. There’s an article for everything,” Haggard says. “There’s lot of Instagram parenting as well as perfect parenting: ‘I’m the perfect, beautiful, amazing mom — look at me doing yoga whilst my child balances on my cervix.’ I’ve never done that.”
Adding to that everyday social stress is the fact that Paul and Ally also find themselves at the new center of their family through aging parents, and, in the case of Ally’s father (Michael McKean), with a new family member to house and feed.
“It’s that bit where you’re in between two generations, really and looking after everybody,” Haggard says. “That was something that separated this show from other shows. That feeling between the two generations — one getting older and one that you’re just trying desperately to keep alive.”
The couple also tackles evolving work situations, school choices and finding that coveted work-life balance.
Part of the process of bringing that all together in “Breeders” was to take some of the typical “excuses” out of the parents’ bad behavior. Paul and Ally are financially stable with good jobs, and their kids aren’t toddlers or newborns. That means they’ve had time to settle into this new life, and the extra stress of soiled nappies and sleepless nights aren’t a regular occurrence. Although, the premiere does center on what a sleepless night can do to a parent’s already fragile psyche, and Paul’s rage takes centre stage as the night carries on.
“That rage thing really takes him by surprise because it was what took me by surprise,” Freeman explains. “In a heartbeat you can suddenly go from being quite happy to angrier than you’d been in 10 years over something that is really not worth it. I always thought all my life I was a nice person, and then I discovered that I wasn’t.”
“Breeders” debuts March 2 at 10 p.m. on FX.