The characters in Breeders say what parents are all thinking, but are afraid to say out loud

A British comedy series that takes a refreshingly honest look at parenting, Breeders is returning for its second season – watch it now on Neon. Daniel Rutledge finds there’s plenty to relate to as a dad (even if you feel guilty laughing at some of the more shocking bits).

This is a show for parents in the same way teen sex comedies are for anyone who is or once was a teenager. It’s predicated on that crazy parental paradox—that you would die for your children, but a lot of the time you feel like you want to kill them. While that might sound shocking, there’s an honesty in it that could attract parents like moths to a flame. It’s like the characters in Breeders are saying what we’re all thinking but are afraid to say out loud, only in a real person way, not a racist misogynistic talkback radio way.

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Minutes into the pilot episode, Paul shouts horrific expletives at his two harmless, innocent, gorgeous little kids. It’s a bold way to introduce a protagonist and for some people, it’ll be an instant turn-off. This show won’t be for everyone, sure, but those who stick with it will discover what a huge heart it has and may grow to love it, even if they feel guilty laughing at some of the more shocking bits.

And of course, more jaded viewers will immediately see the hilarity in it and wonder what those little shits did to their poor dad to make him scream like that.

Beyond using the profanity-laced taboo of yelling abuse at your kids in moments of patience deficiency, there are lots of parental traits brilliantly mined for comedy, but also sometimes for tenderness. One of the funniest is that bizarre rivalry you have with other parents. Sometimes, you can’t help but brag about something awesome you’ve gotten your kid, or done for them. Y’know, you’re proud of it, proud of yourself for spending that money on that thing for them instead of whatever it is you’ve given up for yourself. So you tell the other parent in a weird, passive-aggressive way, basically telling them what a good parent you are—often only to have them display brutal one-upmanship and out-good parent you with some anecdote of immense kindness.

Of course, what you’re actually trying to do is convince yourself you’re a good parent, because that gnawing feeling of inadequacy is always there. No matter what you spend on your child—financially, emotionally or in sheer hours—it’s never enough. Breeders taps into that pervasive feeling better than most shows do, pointing out how bloody ridiculous and stupid it is. And we know it is, but we’ll always feel it anyway, and act on it in often hilarious ways. Any parent watching this will feel some level of glee at the dastardly way well-to-do London-based couple Paul and Ally scheme on getting their daughter into a fancy exclusive school.

Martin Freeman is one of the show’s driving forces and it really hammers home how far he’s come since The Office. Sure, he’ll always be Tim for some and this won’t change that. But while some mannerisms and affectations are very much Tim, Paul is a vastly different chap. His cynicism and verbally abusive ways will turn off some viewers, but Martin brings a hyper-realism to his frustration that will strike a chord with others. Sure, Paul’s happy with his wonderful family and successful life, but part of him will forever regret not going to art school like he wanted to. That eternal pondering about what could’ve been, along with the complex emotions he’s always dealing with as the second husband of Ally, makes for a fascinating character for Freeman to flex with.

Daisy Haggard as Ally gives generally a much more nuanced performance as a modern mum balancing an increasingly demanding job that relegates her more and more to the status of secondary caregiver. Although she shouts less than Paul, she’s pretty much just as brutal—admitting in the pilot to thinking about which duvet would be best to suffocate her children with. Where he lives with frustration and self-doubt all the time, she’s more shruggingly resigned to just how unhappy it is to live happily ever after. “Who is happy with two kids under seven?” she asks. “I mean properly happy like when you’re in Portugal and you’ve just had a couple of beers and a big tomato.” It’s a fair point.

Like a lot of great comedy shows, Breeders shifts gears late into its debut season and sneakily becomes an intense drama without much warning at all, and for more than just one episode. It’s here where Freeman and Haggard really show off their skills and all the show’s preceding raw honesty that was played for laughs pays off for very different emotions. It’s here you realise how much you care about everyone on screen. Not all viewers would’ve stuck with this series past the first episode or two as it’s definitely not for everyone. Those who did watch it through to the surprisingly moving ending will no doubt be eager to see what happens with Paul, Ally, Luke, Ava and their kooky grandparents in season two. I sure am.