I set out to watch Breeders because I thought the concept was really hilarious; a young couple juggle their love for their two children with their irritation towards them. In general, the show delivered and I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the family scenes, especially considering I’m not a parent myself.
However, I have to say, the first few episodes didn’t hook me and, had it not been for my admiration and trust in co-creator Martin Freeman and his abilities (and potentially if the UK wasn’t in lockdown), I probably would have stopped watching after episode 2 or 3.
There are moments in the first episode that really shine, notably when Paul takes the kids on a drive to get them to fall asleep and Ally, due to Paul’s anger issues, calls the police in a moment of confusion and thinking Paul had killed the children. “What would you have done?” Ally asks as the couple lie in bed after the event. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d killed our children” Paul replies.
The first episode seems to incorporate just the right amount of ridiculousness and reality, however the following handful of episodes feel slightly more empty, the characters not fully-fleshed out yet for the audience. Initially, the swearing seems unjustified and pretentious, Paul’s parents seem unnecessary to the story and the flashbacks feel like they are only there to squeeze in small bits of added comedy. This is because the characters are based as accurately as they can on real parents and therefore sometimes Ally and Paul are unlikeable and we can’t instantly form a connection with them. It takes more than just the first few episodes to relate or understand them.
The episode where Ally and Paul jeopardise Luke’s place at a better school by revealing the affair of another parent is quirky but fantastically unrealistic. From these first opening episodes, Ally and Paul appear as friendless, selfish, argumentative people with short fuses, disliking anyone out of their family of four, from their colleagues and neighbours, to their own parents.
However, half-way through the 10-episode series, a particular unpredictable plot-twist involving Ally’s dad expands the story. Suddenly, we begin to learn why Paul and Ally are the parents that they are, through their history together and their relationships with their own parents. The blunt cursing towards their children no longer feels unusual and the moments of emotion, heart-break and joy, feel even more impactful.
The second half of the series deals with much more serious issues and, because we’e seen these characters in trivial, comedic situations, we connect with them even more. When Paul and Ally explore the idea of getting married, when Paul remortgages the house and when Ally gets giving a career opportunity that pulls her away from the family, the excessive stress-induced swearing feels more in-character and we are emotionally invested into the story so much more. Their shallow and strained relationship with their parents is now understandable, their work life feels passionate, and their relationship is much more loving. This connection to the characters is not something that just happens, but is crafted through the many “unimportant” episodes that come before it.
Some of the scenes during the second half of the series are very emotional, which I assume would be even more impactful for parents. The two-part finale is a tear-jerker. Martin Freeman brings so much concern, desperation and guilt to his character, and the kids give A* performances too. The children in the show are a perfect, genuine mix of idle questioning inspired by the kids from Outnumbered and adorable passive puppy dog faces which reflects brilliantly off of Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard’s quite loud performances of their overbearing, outspoken characters.
Masculinity is explored in the show way more than I expected. Alun Armstrong goes above and beyond in his role as Paul’s dad and as someone with a childhood very far removed from a modern boy’s upbringing. As much as he imparts useful advice to Paul and shows that he wants to be the best granddad he can be, he still can’t hug Paul or say “I love you”. It’s an old-fashioned, perfectly British, stiff upper lip which is interesting when compared with Paul’s parenting on screen.
Breeders grows on you, because it’s supposed to – you can not feel for these characters without first watching the filler episodes. Furthermore, I didn’t just find myself more invested in the second half of the series, I also laughed more and the characters actions no longer felt ridiculous or silly. Even the minor characters have more depth and detail.
By the last episode, their neighbor transforms from a judgmental figure to a caring one, Ally’s colleague seems misunderstood and awkward rather than rude, and Paul’s dad feels insecure rather than incapable of showing love.
Breeders is a show I highly, highly recommend you watch and, most importantly, you stick with. The message behind Breeders is this; Yes, you would do anything for your kids. However, that won’t stop parents from being human, and experiencing their own personal struggles, which can only truly be presented in a blunt and ugly way.
Breeders is being shown on Sky One in the UK and FX in the US, and is available on Hulu.