The creators of Breeders are locked into a game of How Far Can You Go

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

Sky One’s Breeders (Thursday) bills itself as an ‘honest and uncompromising comedy’ about parenting. To this end, the opening scene featured Martin Freeman as Paul trying to do some work while his two children under seven made a bit of noise a couple of rooms away. Having given himself a little pep talk about not screaming at them, Paul then screamed at them — bursting in on their blameless fun to yell: ‘Jesus fucking Christ! How many times do I have to tell you to be quiet?’ He further informed them that he was going to leave home and they should ‘tell mummy that daddy’s gone cos he couldn’t stand the fucking noise anymore. And when you’ve told her, you can watch her cry and you can cry some more, and you’ll all be fucking crying.’

And that, in handy capsule form, was the main trouble with the programme. Uncompromising, certainly — but, at the risk of sounding like some kind of Superdad, far too swearily exaggerated to be honest, or to achieve the presumed aim of making us wince with recognition.

Breeders is clearly in the tradition of Outnumbered and Catastrophe, complete with such middle-class trimmings as resentment at the seeming perfection of other families, a deep dependence on wine, an obsession with schools, and grandparents who openly express their somewhat different views on parenting (as they would never call it). It even shares with Catastrophe an annoying American in-law played by a big Hollywood name — in Catastrophe’s case, Rob’s mum Mia (Carrie Fisher); in this one, Ally’s dad Michael (Michael McKean from Spinal Tap).

In fact, Breeders does the familiar stuff pretty well. Freeman and Daisy Haggard are both excellent as a couple in it together who remain fond of each other — when they remember. The strong supporting cast includes Alun Armstrong as the dad from another era and Patrick Baladi as Ally’s boss Darren who, between trips to Croatia and the Maldives, fails to elicit much sympathy with laments for his own childlessness. Some nicely wistful flashbacks remind Paul of the times when he and Ally could, say, have a relaxed meal on holiday without even noticing. There are also plenty of good one-liners, as you’d expect from writer Simon Blackwell, who’s worked on Veep and Peep Show.

And yet, while Outnumbered and Catastrophe achieved a neat (and honest) balance between the downsides and upsides of parenthood, Breeders is so determined to accentuate the negative as to undermine the realism it’s apparently striving for. The same taste for hyperbole, and with it the same undermining, also infects the plots — which in Thursday’s two episodes relied respectively on Ally genuinely believing that Paul had murdered the children and a scheme of almost Jacobean villainy to get them into a good school.

Given that the opening scene was the most glaring misstep, I suppose (and hope) it’s possible that Breeders will gradually stop trying so hard and settle for being what at heart it is: a perfectly fine, if not terribly original parenting sitcom. Up to now, though, it feels as if the three creators (Freeman, Blackwell and director Chis Addison, fathers all) got themselves locked in a game of How Far Can You Go — and went too far.

Luckily, if it’s the positive you want accentuating, this week also brought us Joanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean: Havana to Haiti (ITV). In Wednesday’s first episode, set in Cuba, Joanna saw, among other things, a boxing gym (‘I just adore boxing’), a rehearsal for a dancing show (‘I love watching rehearsals’) and a hand-shaped door-knocker (‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything sweeter than that in my life’).

At one point, she even came across a shop that sold things, causing her to utter the latest in a series of theatrical gasps of delight and to cry, ‘Look! Nail varnish! And Brillo pads!’ In a more sheepish moment, meanwhile, she explained that Cuba’s overwhelming heat and humidity were why ‘I look soaked’ — although, of course, she still gave every impression of having just emerged from a particularly expensive beauty salon.

Now and again, Joanna did touch on the island’s political history and present situation/plight — but not for long. A tour guide, for example, wisely told her that he didn’t want a counter-revolution or a civil war, but did apologetically suggest he wouldn’t mind ‘a bit more’. Otherwise, Joanna’s gushing continued: over ‘the best tobacco in the world’, ‘one of the finest rumba groups in the world’ (only ‘one of’?) and ‘heroic freedom fighter Che Guevara’, whose image ‘adorns every student bedroom in the world, always has, always will’ — by my reckoning, an impressive strike rate of three untruths in three assertions.

Next week, Joanna reaches Haiti, where even she may face something of a challenge to have a jolly time. Nonetheless, I definitely wouldn’t bet against it.

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