UK TV review: Breeders
Ivan Radford | On 19, Mar 2020
“It’s a conundrum, trying to work out which duvet to suffocate them with.” That’s the sound of Martin Freeman subverting his good guy image with this new comedy that doesn’t shy away from the frustrations of parenting.
Freeman, whose roles in The Office, Sherlock, The Hobbit and more, is one of the nation’s most likeable everymen, capable of bringing a grounded, everyday quality to any part he plays. Here, he’s Paul, a father of two, a husband of one (Ally – Daisy Haggard) and an office worker with career prospects that are approximately zero. All of this gets on top of him and, when his young sprogs get a little too noisy, he flips and starts threatening to leave them. There’s a raw honesty to the central paradox – that one can be willing to die for one’s kids while simultaneously wanting to kill them. Nativity!, this ain’t.
The premise is one that will ring bells with most TV viewers, as it’s one that made BBC series Motherland so effective. Instead written by a team of blokes – Simon Blackwell (The Thick of It, In the Loop) and Chris Addison are co-creators alongside Freeman – the result is essentially Fatherland. It’s to the show’s credit that Ally isn’t an overlooked character, with Daisy Haggard sinking her teeth into the part of a mother who runs her own recording studio and can deftly balance dark and twisted banter with Paul and patiently reading a story to their kids even while she’s half-asleep.
The pair are wonderful together, with Freeman coming to charming life when he’s with her. It’s jarring, then, to see him snap into a swearing, angry monster every 5 minutes, as the duo find themselves navigating his spiralling behaviour. Freeman is certainly enjoying his meaty role, and the script is a commendably frank exploration of toxic masculinity, with Paul discovering he’s not the man he thought he was. Within an hour, we’ve see him in the street promising to assault loud passers-by in the street, get arrested by the police, struggle to put up with Ally’s estranged father (a scene-stealing Michael McKean) and wonder whether he is taking one too many trips to the hospital with his accident-prone son.
When they’re visited by social services. the couple’s nervous worry and concern is immensely relatable, even after the show has leaned into the naturalistic, naughty dialogue. There’s enough here to make this a distinctive counterpart to Motherland, rather than an copycat. It’s hard, though, to reconcile Paul’s foul-mouthed rage with their seemingly cheerful union. Then again, perhaps that’s the point.
Breeders Season 1 is available on Sky One. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.