They’re An Angry Family Doing The Best They Can
Breeders Returns For Season 3
One of the quieter pleasures I enjoyed last year was the FX presentation of Breeders, a dry and very brittle comedy about a middle class family trying to raise two very problematic children. Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard, two of the subtly greatest actors on television in the past decade, gave exceptionally funny and increasingly angry performances as Paul and Ally, two fortyish parents whose marriage and relationship with their son, Luke began to unravel under the force of Paul’s anger and need for control.
In Season 2, Ally and Paul tried to have another child despite Ally’s desires not too. She flirted with a colleague at work, who kissed her which caused them to separate and they kept having increasing problems with Luke’s anxiety which led to panic attacks that Paul refused to tolerate until Luke hit him in the season finale. Realizing the extent of the problems, Paul moved into the house of a honeymooning friend.
As Season 3 opens, the situation continues to get worse to some degree. In the first episode, Paul spies on his family playing a game and having fun in the house, and is increasingly angry at being ‘held hostage’ by his son’s demands. Ava, the ‘good child’ is just as frustrated as Paul at the situation, and frankly is tired of being ‘the quiet one’. There are signs that she is starting to fragment as well: in the second episode, she has her period and doesn’t want to disturb Ally about it. When her mother goes to the chemist, she basically steals an entire row of tampons and confines to a church friend rather than her mother.
Ally has been the source of the strength in the family but being the only parent is starting to wear her down. In the second episode, she learns that the office in Berlin has gone bankrupt and that she might well lose her job because she is being blamed for it. Worse, after being diagnosed with menopause last season, her holistic gel the only thing that works to treat it is now in a government shortage and it’ll be a year until more becomes unavailable. (Her reaction is priceless: “Can I get some on the Dark Web?” It’s nearly as funny watching the chemist’s reaction to this.) At her core, she’s always been as angry as Paul; will this be the season her darkness comes out?
Paul, by contrast, actually seems to be improving a little in the second episode. He’s met a kind neighbor, seems to rejoice to his iPad while making breakfast (a contrast to the frenzied scene at home) and is in such a good position at work, that he plays hooky with a friend to see a film that afterward both admit they didn’t understand and want to see Paddington next time. When Ally frantically calls Paul to help Luke through a panic attack, they go to a museum together and in contrast to a heated exchange in the premiere are perfectly civil to each other. Luke confides that he’s nervous about a history assignment the next day and Paul offers to bail him out. Luke says he’s all right, but the next day when Paul comes to tells him about ‘Nana June’, he has absolutely no problem skipping out on the assignment. That night, they have an even more cordial conversation and Luke says he has no problem with his dad coming home. The question is how long will this détente last?
Breeders didn’t make my top ten list for 2021, but it was still one of my favorite series and I was delighted when the HCA in their initial nominations for Television series nominated the show, Freeman and Haggard for awards in the Best Comedy Series. It is not as revolutionary as Atlanta was and currently is, nor as zany as What we Do in the Shadows but in its own way, it’s as funny and more human. Last season I compared it to the now departed Better Things and I believe the comparison still holds up — Paul and Ally are involved in very similar problems with their children that Sam Fox was, and have just as tricky parental situations. Paul’s parents aren’t nearly as impossible to deal with as Phil was on Better Things — neither of them had any problem moving out of their house last season as they got older — but they can often be just as disconnected from reality. At one point when Paul tries to have a conversation with them, his mother brings up ‘the parable of the Three Little Pigs’, which leads to a hysterical conversation between the three about the story is not a parable, that Jesus didn’t eat pork and leads to a connection with the Billy Goats Gruff, which is spinning in Paul’s head when he meets with Ally the next day. In the second episode, they visit him with tinned goods on the premise of wanting to see how he’s holding up, and then confess they want to live with him in his house because their managed care facility is like a ‘prison’, which leads to another hysterical digression on bunk beds. You get the feeling that Paul agrees just so he doesn’t have hear any more of this. What will the situation be like when Ally’s mother gets back from her honeymoon?”
FX is in the middle of having some of the best comedy series in recent history running on its network. While it is more than likely that the more obviously brilliant series like Atlanta and Shadows will dominate the nomination this July, Better Things and Breeders are just as deserving. I don’t know how long Breeders will run on FX (British series have a history of running for far shorter periods than American ones) but I will watch the quietly hysterical work of Freeman and Haggard for as long as they want to keep showing us. Maybe the series will end when the children finally grow up and loose some of their baggage. Then again, parents know that never truly happens.
My score: 4.5 stars.