Countless TV shows have been driven by the basic (if undeniable) sentiment that raising kids is, in fact, very hard. The latest to embrace it is FX’s “Breeders,” a new comedy from Martin Freeman and “The Thick of It” writers Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell that lets its harried adults admit, over and over again, that they downright hate parenting just as much as they treasure it. Freeman’s Paul is often startled by the depth of his frustrated rage when he can’t get his children to do what he needs them to, while his partner Ally (Daisy Haggard) shrugs on the responsibility of keeping them all together with a sort of dead-eyed resignation. Ally and Paul like each other well enough — certainly more than most anyone else — but more importantly, they’re committed to getting through this uniquely challenging stage of their lives without completely losing their minds.
“Breeders” has a lot going for it, especially in the choices of Freeman and Haggard as its leads. Freeman, who’s so often cast as A Nice Enough Guy, tackles the expression of Paul’s anger in sharp bursts that are always jarring, but to the show’s credit, frequently self-aware. Haggard, coming off a smart turn as a well-meaning mess in her Showtime comedy “Back to Life,” extends that streak here, giving Ally a harder edge that underlines the acidic bite “Breeders” depends upon. When Michael McKean shows up as Ally’s wayward father, he quickly adjusts to Addison and Blackwell’s particular comedic rhythms while maintaining his own honed style, a welcome contrast to everyone else surrounding him him. Sporadic flashbacks, often to happier (or at least simpler) times, also keep the pace moving so that we can’t get quite as stuck in the monotonous everyday of Paul and Ally’s lives as much as they so often do.
Thanks to its creative team and solid performers, “Breeders” is a reliable comedy that hits all the beats one might expect from its “parenting, but more honest” premise. This adherence to predictable plots is also what keeps “Breeders” from being much more interesting than that. Paul’s burgeoning anger problem is the only particularly different aspect “Breeders” offers as a twist on its otherwise very familiar framework (an aspect that, for some viewers, will probably prove pretty controversial insomuch as Paul largely shrugs it off). Comparing series with similar concepts isn’t always a useful exercise, but it’s near impossible to watch “Breeders” and not think of “Catastrophe,” Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s great comedy that managed to take on many of the same themes as “Breeders” and other parent-focused shows, but from a more specific point of view.
“Breeders” doesn’t necessarily need to find more fascinating things to say about parenting in order to work, but it would be more interesting, at least, to watch it try.
“Breeders” premieres March 2 at 10 pm EST on FX. (10 episodes; 5 reviewed.)