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Breeders finds its footing in a calmer, stronger second season

Daisy Haggard and Martin Freeman in Breeders
Daisy Haggard and Martin Freeman in Breeders
Photo: Miya Mizuno/FX
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The second season premiere of Breeders starts with Paul (Martin Freeman) and his partner, Ally (Daisy Haggard), talking in their home when they’re interrupted by blasting, gamelike noises from one of their kids’ bedrooms. It irritates Paul, a recurring theme for Breeders, an American-British dramedy that deals with the difficulties the couple faces in dealing with their young children, jobs, and relationship. They live fulfilling lives on paper, but the two are just not adept at handling the chaos their offspring create, which they often add to by yelling and swearing at them. It doesn’t take long for anyone under their roof to help spiral a situation out of control. So it’s a pleasant surprise when, in the season opener, “No Surrender,” Paul goes to quiet them down relatively somberly. It’s an even bigger surprise to see that their kids, Luke and Ava, have grown up and are now 13 and 10, respectively. Like a handful of other ongoing series, Breeders has leaped forward a few years between seasons, a creative decision that adds some much-needed nuance and depth to the witty but acrid nature of the show.

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In this new season, which focuses more on Paul, he is much more aware of his parental shortcomings that stem from his anger management problems. He ended season one by going to therapy, and while he still hasn’t embraced that completely, Paul has accepted that he needs to grow as a father to match his kids’ growth. Luke (Alex Eastwood) is stepping into his teenage years, anxious and lonely, while Ava (Eve Prenelle) is already quite independent and wise. It’s naturally a big change from their younger iterations, played by George Wakeman and Jayda Eyles, who were mostly around to cause ruckus and ask a lot of questions, a.k.a normal kid stuff.

Raising their kids has always been challenging for Paul and Ally, but as Luke and Ava further develop their own personalities, the couple realizes their old habits won’t do the trick anymore. In a scene from the premiere, while trying to emphatically and loudly punish Luke for not picking up his sister from school, they tell him he won’t be getting a 13th birthday present anymore. Luke only shrugs in response, and that arc unravels into a moment of reflection for Paul and Ally. The screaming and cursing from season one, however grating, are still present in season two, but the show has found a way to deftly balance it with more heartfelt storytelling and some interesting curveballs for this family. Breeders finally anchors Paul and Ally, who seem more comfortable in their shoes, just as Freeman and Haggard do while playing them.

The series doesn’t just put their parenting style under the microscope; it also examines the relationships Paul and Ally share with their respective parents. In season one, Ally’s renewed connection with her father, Michael (Michael McKean), provided the emotional underpinning to the show, while helping to dive deeper into her personality. Paul has a similar arc in season two, as he continues to rely on his mother, Jackie (Joanna Bacon), and father, Jim (Alun Armstrong), for help and spot-on, succinct advice for raising his kids. The direct tie-in into their intergenerational connection comes into play in “No Faith,” one of the strongest episodes of the new season: There, Paul contemplates his spiritual journey as he learns about Ava’s belief in a higher power, similar to that of his mother. Paul and Ava’s developing bond helps root the new episodes. In focusing more on these family dynamics, which is primarily possible because Luke and Ava aren’t so little anymore, Breeders becomes stronger as a show, one that actually has something more poignant to offer in lieu of its caustic comedy.

Freeman, who created Breeders along with Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell, loosely based the series on his own experiences as a parent, which inform his excellent portrayal of the frustrated, barely-holding-on father learning to let his gripes go. The actor softens some of Paul’s sharp edges as the episodes continue. But Haggard, whose grounded performance helped solidify Breeders as a worthwhile dramedy series in season one, doesn’t get enough meaty storylines this time around. At least that changes by the end of “No Faith,” which promises to put the spotlight on her as season two continues. New cast members Eastwood and Prenelle do a great job of blending in, especially the latter in her scenes with Freeman.

Breeders is one of several TV shows that offer commentary on the hardships of parenting in today’s world. It’s not presented as simply as in Single Parents or as heavily as in Parenthood, but with a more self-aware voice in season two, the show has found its place in the genre.

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