Of Better things and Married at Disaster and SMILF, the past few years have been a boom time for the sardonic, semi-realistic sitcom eager to prove that parenting can be hard work. Also free from canned laughs, schmaltzy life lessons, and lazy kids do the most darndest things humor, FXs Breeders which returns for its second season tonight has seemed to fly under the radar in comparison. Yet his portrayal of modern family life is perhaps the most relatable of the lot.
On the surface, the London-based comedy relies on a much more traditional setup, perfect for the image. The Worsleys are a white middle-class nuclear family living in an immaculately furnished house ripped from the pages of Architectural summary. Father Paul (Martin Freeman) has the unconditional support of his slightly bewildered parents, while Ally (Daisy Haggard) has a cushy recording studio job that sends her on weekly all-expense-paid trips to Berlin.
His first season, however, had more than First World issues to solve: Allys’ father (Michael McKean) returned to be forgiven for being fatally hit by a car shortly after. And at one point, it seemed like the show could do the unthinkable – kill a child. Thankfully, son Luke (George Wakeman) has recovered from the severe brain infection that gave his penultimate episode the most gruesome of suspensions. Yet add Paul’s glaring anger management issues and a relationship that both sides recognize has become more stagnant than the bread and butter of the past few months and suddenly their family life doesn’t seem so rosy.
It’s no wonder, then, that Season 2 picks up where it left off, with Paul in therapy, albeit reluctantly. Most of this stuff is between inverted commas, he tells the first of three tired advisers subjected to his default mode of unbridled cynicism. However, we have now flashed forward several years later. Luke (Alex Eastwood) and his sister Ava (Eve Prenelle) have new faces although their predecessors appear in newly filmed flashbacks with the former set to turn 13.e birthday and the latter to this plea for a cell phone milestone.
The first four episodes reviewed for review might not contain as much high-profile drama. There is a brief appearance of the font, but that’s only to sort out a confusion about a rose size. It doesn’t matter, however, when you have such lived-in characters and scripts striking the difficult balance between believable everyday conversation and pithy one-liners.
Alongside Armando Iannucci regulars Simon Blackwell and Chris Addison, Freeman created the series based on his own parenting experiences. It shows in the frustrations, worries and general banalities that his on-screen partnership struggles to cope with on a daily basis. And while most of its counterparts focus solely on the perspective of mothers, here the ups and downs of child rearing are shared equally.
Learning to let go is a particularly strong recurring theme this time around. See the unnecessary panic over Ava, 10, coming home from school unaccompanied for the first time. Or when her pious atheist father has to grapple with the fact that she has suddenly developed an interest in God. The Worsleys can no longer shape their children’s minds and the show is at its funniest as they try to make their way through this new development.
We were never going to be The Waltons. But I’ll settle for The Munsters. Even the Manson family had a common interest, Paul loses hope after his family begins to grow too big for their Sunday night ritual of watching a low-rent TV show. And while lambasting a brooding Luke for responding in the most teenage way (Are we done?), Ally delivers a hilarious, crass blast that puts her husbands to shame. Haggard and Freeman are both excellent at conveying genuine affection one minute and sheer exasperation the next, both to their children and to each other. It’s rare to see a sitcom wedding so far into the cozy phase portrayed in such depth.
The dangers of parenthood can lead the couple to start dreaming about putting their children up for adoption and emigrating to Portugal, a thought that will undoubtedly ring true for any onlooker with their own sprogs. But it’s also clear that they are determined not to make the same mistakes their own parents did.
Paul is adamant that his father Jim (Alun Armstrong) will die of a burst stomach ulcer after spending more than 70 years suppressing all possible human feelings. Yet when Lukes’ mood swings and insomnia are explained by a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, something cleverly foreshadowed by his constant fear of death, Paul is an emotional stunt. His moving head – ting with the frightened teenager offers a warmth often absent from all other child-rearing comedies, but without falling into the saccharine. Full house territory too.
Much like the cycle of life, however, it is no longer just their young that the couple should be parenting. Paul’s people now feel too ill-equipped to be guardians of their grandchildren (weren’t crippled but weren’t steadfast) and he spends most of the third episode trying to console mother Jackie (Joanna Bacon) on the gentrification of their once neighboring community. . Even Allys ice cold mom Leah (Stella Gonet) shows signs of vulnerability after being robbed in her own posh home.
Note that the last shot of the fourth episode suggests that the Worsleys will soon undergo another major change in family dynamics. It’s unlikely to be straightforward, of course, but like everything else about this underrated gem, it will undoubtedly be flawlessly precise.
Jon OBrien (@ jonobrien81) is a freelance entertainment and sports writer from the North West of England. His work has appeared in the likes of Vulture, Esquire, Billboard, Paste, iD, and The Guardian.
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