Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Martin Freeman on the relatability of FX’s parenting comedy Breeders

Martin Freeman in FX’s Breeders
Martin Freeman in FX’s Breeders
Photo: Miya Mizuno/FX

In the fourth episode of Breeders season two, titled “No Faith,” Paul and his daughter Ava (Eve Prenell) are on opposing sides of the spiritual spectrum. Paul, played by series co-creator Martin Freeman, lost his belief in God a while ago, but his 10-year-old is starting to discover hers. It’s not an uncommon circumstance in a lot of families, and in this case, it is deftly handled by Paul after some miscommunications. “As a parent, you realize a lot of times that the things your kids say or do or have nothing to do with you. It’s striking,” Freeman tells The A.V. Club. “I look at my son and daughter often and think ‘this is all you, it has nothing to do with me or your mum.’ And it happens pretty quickly.”

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Breeders, which Freeman based on some of his own parenting experiences, chronicles the adventures of Paul and Ally (Daisy Haggard), who are hard-working and caring parents but they often relay their frustration on their young kids by yelling at them. It’s a brutally realistic and comical depiction of the ups and downs of raising children. Now in its second season, Breeders elevates these themes with a five-year leap. Their kids aren’t just cute-but-loud preschoolers any more. Luke (Alex Eastwood) and Ava are 13 and 10, respectively, which comes with a whole new set of hurdles for Paul and Ally to overcome or understand, like Luke wanting to become vegan or Ava’s newfound faith. “That was always part of the plan for a season two. We knew it presented different challenges and pleasures,” Freeman says. “The older they get, there are some things that are easier to manage and then there aren’t.”

This time around, though, his on-screen character is learning to control his anger issues by going to therapy and taking a calmer approach—not just while dealing with the growing pains of his children, but also of his own parents. “I suppose Paul is just better at it by now, he’s had those five more years. He is still essentially the same person but I see him as a demonstrably loving parent. He’s never had any problems telling his kids he loves them, or to kiss or hug them,” Freeman shares. “But he’s also a shouter and has a problem with patience. I’m glad you get to see him interact more with little people who are more able to communicate now.”

Daisy Haggard, Martin Freeman, Alex Eastwood, Eve Prenell in FX’s Breeders
Daisy Haggard, Martin Freeman, Alex Eastwood, Eve Prenell in FX’s Breeders
Photo: Miya Mizuno/FX

As seen in the first four episodes of Breeders season two, those little people are going through their own coming-of-age problems that impact them and their parents’ relationship. Luke, now a teenager, doesn’t know how to face a friendless school life and the anxiety stemming from it, while Ava is already wise for her age, as seen in almost all of her interactions. “That’s what happens when your kids get older, you realize you’re having full-blown conversations with them as real people who are alarmingly like adults,” Freeman says. While the duo could quickly scream or curse at their offspring for creating chaos in the past, the children growing up means they have to handle them differently. It leads to their own maturity in many ways, and both Freeman and Haggard astutely handle their performances to reflect that.

Paul and Ally face a lot of specific, fun situations and hardships, but the series always finds a way to make them resonate. Breeders humanizes and lends empathy toward parental figures. Paul often seeks guidance from his mom and dad, Jackie (Joanna Bacon) and Jim (Alun Armstrong), who regale him with stories of his own childhood to compare with his own habits as a father. Ally, meanwhile, encourages her mother Leah’s (Stella Gonet) romantic adventures this season after losing her estranged father Michael (Michael McKean) in season one. This intergenerational dynamic comes into play a lot more in season two and adds to Breeders relatability. “We think about our upbringing a lot, in the ways it shaped us, the way your parents shaped you,” Freeman says. “A lot of people are not parents but everyone has been a child and most people will remember, if they choose to, the hard and the great bits with their parents.”

Freeman adds that Breeders is identifiable to even those in the audiences who, if they aren’t raising children themselves, know of others who are or know a couple going through similar conditions of juggling work, financial management, and kids. “Also if you have no interest in being a parent or having more kids, it speaks to you,” he adds, which could very well pertain to the cliffhanger of the recent episode. At the end of “No Faith,” Ally thinks she might be pregnant again. It launches a pragmatic narrative for the rest of the season that tests Paul and Ally’s connection as each of them reflect on their lives (with flashbacks) since they had Luke and Ava.

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Despite touching on serious issues, Breeders doesn’t lose sight of its humor, interweaving it throughout the episodes via matter-of-fact, deadpan delivery of one-liners and absurd scenarios, like Paul dealing with Jackie and Jim’s twentysomething neighbors, or Ally’s failed attempts to go vegan with her son. Freeman says his real-life kids, whom he often jokes are now demanding royalties for their role in inspiring the comedy, love the show. “They look at me sideways every single time my character does something they recognize,” he admits. It’s the simple but blunt portrayal of regular families that connects with all viewers. “The whole point of this show is that if people are being honest, there will be something that is very easily relatable about it. It’s not the Instagram version of parenting,” he adds. “I was going to say it’s old-fashioned, but actually it’s a style that is alive and kicking today. It is how families function in many ways.”

Staff Writer (TV)