They F You Up Your Mom and Dad; But They Were Pretty F’ed Themselves
Breeders Season 2 Review
For the better part of this decade, I’ve been watching Martin Freeman playing darker variations on the average man. He did more in nearly a century to make the character of John Watson become fully dimensional in the extraordinary Sherlock than almost any of the dozens of actors (and at least one actress) who have played the role. He also edged into a far darker version of the everyman in his mesmerizing work as Lester on the extraordinary first season of Fargo. He planned an average Minnesotan poisoned by his interaction with a savage one, but after awhile you were pretty clear that darkness had always been within him. He was good that he actually ended up nominated for playing both characters in 2014 (he won Supporting Actor for the former.)
Freeman has been so good at playing to the dramatics that it came as a shock to me that his start was in comedy. I never saw any of his work in the U.K. version of The Office (and it’s unlikely, given my feelings towards Ricky Gervais in general that I ever will). I have gotten a sense from his work in movies: his role as Arthur Dent in the deeply flawed film version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and in Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy, particularly The World’s End. He does have a very gentle sense of humor that often gets lost in so many of the over the top versions that we get so often.
Last year, he came up with the image for the FX series Breeders. The story is remarkably simple: it follows two middle-class parents in modern England: Paul (Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard) as they try to raise their children, twelve year old Luke and ten year old Ava. Neither child is precisely normal, particularly Luke, who has trouble dealing with other children and in the second half of the season premiere was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that practically stops him from sleeping. And the truth is, neither Paul nor Ally is particularly good at their judgment — they were good parents when they were younger, but they’ve got more issues then their children. Paul, in particular is angry at the world, and so devoted to keeping hold of his inner rage that when advised to see a therapist about it, he keeps changing therapists rather than accept any advice that would involve letting go of his rage. Ally can be just as hostile, mainly to the idea that anything is wrong with her children. W hen she learns that Luke might have something wrong with him; she is reluctant to get him diagnosed because of how it affects things — even if it means helping him.
Haggard is one of the more intriguing comic actresses of the past decade: she could steal scenes with just a mutter in Showtime’s criminally underviewed Episodes and in developing the outstanding Back To Life where she played the lead role of a woman convicted of murder as teenager returning to the village she’d grown up in and is now considered a pariah. Breeders gives her some of her best wok to date, playing a mother who was never fully appreciated by her own, and who can’t quite seem to manage her relationship with her now. Childhood issues also plague Paul, albeit in a different way. He doesn’t believe his parents gave him enough latitude growing up, though they seem a lot more passive-aggressive than Paul is himself.
Breeders is a subtler comedy than those on FX, and indeed most of their series in general. The closest equivalent in my opinion is Better Things, which mostly deals with a mother close to Paul and Ally’s age handling her complicated children. Breeders proves that is just as complicated to raise children in a conventional family as in an unconventional one that Sam has. (Sam is just as angry as these parents, but having met her mother and her husband, one can see why.) There are no big issues, no big crisis, just trying to raise a family — which as any parent can tell you, is a daily ordeal. It’s charming and its funny and it shows Freeman and Haggard in fine fettle. Is it as groundbreaking as Atlanta? No. But in its own way, to its own audience, it’s just as relatable.
My score: 4 stars.