Parenting changes lives and can also turn you into someone you didn’t expect, and the secret Breeders has to convey is that mothers and fathers simply make mistakes (sometimes massive and painful ones), aren’t perfect, and sometimes lose their temper. Breeders is thus a masterclass of depicting complicated parent-child relationships.
While this may seem obvious to some, the reality of the frustrations and not-so-perfect side of parenthood is not shown on TV as often as it should be. This is why, among various other sitcoms exploring parenthood, Breeders might just be the most provocative yet.
Breeders: One Too Many Responsibilities
The brilliant Martin Freeman plays Paul, a mid-forties husband and father who is angrily plodding through life. While he has to deal with the fact that his own parents aren’t getting any younger, it’s actually his children that are stressing him out the most. His seven-year-old son, Luke, seems to have a horrendous fear of the house burning down, and he believes that his four-year-old daughter, Ava, would be excelling much more in a higher class at school. On top of this, he thinks that his wife Ally (played by the talented Daisy Haggard) is acting far too laid back about their children’s education. Seems tough, right?
The series’ opening scene is a perfect portrayal in itself of how difficult it is to deal with this kind of stress. As Paul bursts in on his children playing in their bedroom, he unexpectedly loses his temper. The swearing directed at the children is shocking to watch of course, but an incredibly raw and realistic depiction of how someone would express their anger and frustration. Let’s be honest, everyone has lost their temper without meaning to and instantly felt bad about it; these natural human reactions are often looked down on, yet are something normal that we all do. Part of the uniqueness of Breeders is portraying this frustration and anger, how it swells up even when Ally and (especially) Paul know it will only cause more problems.
Freeman, Blackwell, and More Add Authenticity to Breeders
This opening scene even came quite naturally for Freeman and co-writer Blackwell, who is also known for his work on some of the best comedies of recent years, including Peep Show, The Thick of It and Veep. The storylines in Breeders are natural, real, and something you would expect from the average life of a parent — sleepless nights, disagreements with in-laws, and struggles to find the perfect school for your child so that they have a good education and ultimately don’t fail.
Although, everyone already knows about these basic, everyday struggles. What is so brilliant about Breeders is that it delves into the edgier, more unknown side of parenthood that most people (especially those who are not parents) don’t often witness. For example, in one episode, Luke injures himself so often that doctors suspect child abuse, and protective services are called. While some may see this as unreasonable, it simply shows the reality of some extremely tricky and scary situations that occur during parenting, which is crucial as it is very rarely shown on screen. These dark moments may be eye-opening to some viewers who don’t seem to be aware of how tough it can get.
How Breeders Depicts Unrealistic Expectations
Ultimately, the show underlines how society’s expectations of parents has changed and how difficult they can be to come to terms with. Paul and Ally aren’t great parents, yet as the show demonstrates their mistakes, the more honest and real they become. This dynamic portrays them as simply human, flawed but likable, just trying to get by; isn’t everyone? As the kids age in ensuing seasons (and the show utilizes flashbacks), viewers can see the immense expectations placed on Paul and Ally over the years, and how the relationship between these parents and their children changes as a result.
Blackwell explained how these expectations are explored through the use of flashbacks and quick cuts, and that over the past 40 years, expectations of parenting has changed enormously. He also describes, “I didn’t know how to be a father because there were no role models. Dads didn’t have much to do with their kids in the ’70s.” The meaning behind portraying this through flashbacks is that it’s a way of portraying the chaos of parenthood and how life is so fragmented, “having to be so many things at once.”
Having to be so many things at once can, understandably, cause anxiety, which is a challenging subject that Breeders portrays so carefully and realistically — especially in motherhood. The series brilliantly shows how motherhood can cause isolation and what it’s like to have anxiety from societal pressures of being a mother, as well as the toll it takes on the body. Not only is this relevant for other mothers to see, but for those who aren’t a mother, it is also perhaps a wake-up call. Breeders (and Daisy Haggard’s exceptional performance) can actually encourage some empathy for those who are around mothers, reminding them and us to be kind to mothers and maybe cut them some slack, because it can be a nightmare sometimes.
Breeders Depicts Parenting by Normalizing Failure
By portraying such intimate struggles, it opens a space for honest discussions about difficult topics for the viewers and has normalized the idea of failure. Every parent is forced to admit that they made mistakes along the way and that they’re not always perfect. The show is so realistic that it is able to take away some of the guilt that some parents may feel for making mistakes.
Breeders has, in a way, brought a sense of belonging and connectivity to the audience, as if all parents are part of a safe community that is guilt free — a place where they can relate to someone and feel a bit more normal, heard, and respected. It shows us that we don’t have to be perfect, that we are sometimes messy, wrong and confused. A standardized handbook to be the perfect parent doesn’t exist, so everyone is just getting by and figuring it out along the way. As Breeders shows, if you’re a parent who is struggling, that is okay.