Breeders opens without a lot of fanfare or establishment, and jumps right out of the gate with Paul (Martin Freeman) screaming at his kids. Our premise couldn’t be more straightforward, Paul and Ally (Daisy Haggard) have two kids, Luke (George Wakeman) and Ava (Jayda Eyles). That’s it. Hilarity ensues. It makes you think the show might just be called “Parents.” But, then Paul screams at his kids to be quiet using less-than-appropriate language, and you have a better idea of where you are.
Despite the fact that there are events that take place within our busy home life, and things like mortgages and aging parents are at some point within our field of view, Breeders is really only about the absolute insanity of having kids in your house. It’s a bit like the gag about women continuing to have kids, expanded to the torture of parenthood itself, as a premise. And, it’s no-holds-barred. Paul and Ally spend the majority of their time complaining about their kids, but in a way that screams “British comedy,” where it’s hard to find a line of dialogue that isn’t laced with sarcasm. Well, apart from when Paul confides that he really is a monster. He isn’t. Not really. But, man can kids push your buttons.
Here’s our situational theory. People who don’t have kids surely have some idea what to expect when they leave the hospital with their new bundle of joy. Whenever they are in a group, advice and warnings are sure to flow. They’ve been warned about losing some sleep (which Breeders covers in the opening episode) and everyone has ideas on feeding, crayons on the wall, anything that can be used as a drum, etc. But, Breeders is like a guy who wanders in from a dark alley looking like Jim Ignatowski from Taxi and says, “Uhhhh uhhh huuuuhhhh… Pull up a chair.”
That is to say, it’s a show that owes a bit of a nod to Catastrophe, even if only for doing some market research.
As the show moves on, it brilliantly avoids bringing any sort of “point” to bear on the dynamic it creates, and instead simply adds to the “normal” chaos of life and shoves it through the filter of people who actually speak their minds. Paul gets passed over for a promotion, ultimately because he has kids (it can happen to men as well), because who has the energy left to “appear hungry” at work? Ally’s flaky Dad (Michael McKean) shows up to throw off what we’re calling a routine. At one point Ally decides she’s all about decluttering and Paul has to figure out how to adjust when your partner springs the idea on you that life will suddenly be completely different… and your stuff is in the bin.
As much as these things, and many, many more, might be considered “events,” they are just more things life throws on the pile, and though today’s insanity might be different from yesterday’s, there isn’t any less insanity on any day. This stream itself is probably the show’s best work. More than the witty dialogue, or the perfect delivery by Freeman and McKean, the methodical construction is the real hero, even if only for the magical illusion of the spontaneity that has people finding themselves in an argument when they can’t remember how they got on the topic.
The only potential problem with Breeders is also one of its greatest strengths, and that is that it is so British. It’s British to the extent that in a couple of years someone will try to make an “Americanized” version and waste a couple of great actors (like Colin Ferguson and Jay Harrington) trying to throw in “belly laughs,” and it will be trash. It’s hilarious, and well worth simply watching the stars do what they do, but it’s hilarious like a Wodehouse novel, which means that trying to figure out what to do with a laugh track is to be confused about what’s going on.