FX’s new parenting comedy is a genuinely hilarious and oftentimes uncomfortably truthful look at how difficult raising kids can be.
This recap of Breeders Season 1, Episode 1, “No Sleep”, contains spoilers.
The underlying point of FX’s new parenting comedy Breeders is not a new or novel one – it is, simply, that kids aren’t exactly the pure bundles of joy they’re advertised as, and that raising them can be remarkably challenging. There have been many shows to paddle in this pool, but the premiere of this one, “No Sleep”, excels on the strength of two things. The first is a split focus between both parents, where such things usually focus on motherhood, and the second is a coarse, unflinching honesty that, in Breeders Episode 1, builds to a payoff in which one of the parents strongly suspects the other of having murdered their children.
Meet the parents: Paul (Martin Freeman) is an otherwise mild-mannered man suddenly driven to extremities of rage by his sleepless kiddies; his wife, Ally (Daisy Haggard), is a limitless font of sarcasm and cheerless resignation. Together, as written by Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell of The Thick of It, they’re a couple reminiscent of many you might know or might even have been – they’re as happy as they reasonably can be with each other, and driven to despair by their cherished offspring.
Breeders relies on the strength of its leads and their co-dependent relationship; a lot of the comedy is in how they attempt to navigate a situation that they’re both equally invested in and blighted by. Freeman is playing almost a pastiche of his usual everyman shtick, here prone to bouts of acidic rage that have a streak of self-awareness to help offset how nasty they can be. Haggard’s Ally isn’t unraveling quite as quickly, but her frustrations manifest in different ways; she might not angrily swear at her alarm clock as it ticks into the wee hours, but that’s because she’s asleep with earplugs in while her husband is locked outside arguing with local ruffians.
Much of “No Sleep” occurs within the confines of Paul and Ally’s home and in line with the repetitive cycle of their long days and longer nights, so the show smartly leaps back and forth through time to happier moments, such as the birth of each child, so we get a sense of the gradual decay of their idealistic outlook and meet the parents of the parents, all of whom can be relied upon for great gags. While Breeders Episode 1 hits the expected beats, it hits them with more force and resultant noise than usual; Paul’s burgeoning rage gives the sense of a fizzing fuse leading who-knows-where, and that specificity in the show’s approach helps it to stand out from other, similar comedies which lack this one’s unbridled, truthful frustration.