‘Breeders’: How The FX & Sky Series Became The Poster Child For Pandemic Comedy Television

Peter White

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Breeders, the FX and Sky comedy starring Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard, opens with Freeman’s Paul working from home, trying to ignore his kids making a racket upstairs.

Although he tries to talk himself out of it as he climbs the stairs, he can’t help but scream, “Jesus, fxxking Christ, how many times do I have to tell you to be quiet?” followed by “Sorry. I’m working. I didn’t mean any of that”.

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This is a scene that is now playing out in homes across the U.S. and around the world – helping Breeders to become the poster child of pandemic television comedy.

Chris Addison, who co-created the show with Freeman and Simon Blackwell, tells Deadline, “I was always worried that people would be so sick of that situation in their houses that they might not want to watch it but mercifully people have taken to watching it. One of the big reactions is that people are finding solace in it.” Blackwell jokes, “We might be preventing child murders.”

Deadline caught up with Freeman, Haggard, Addison and Blackwell over Zoom last week. It felt like peering into their process as the four joked about how they, and their children, were dealing with quarantine.

The show is centered around Freeman’s Paul and his partner Ally, played by Episodes and Back To Life star Daisy Haggard and their two small children, Luke, played by George Wakeman and Ava, played by Jayda Eyles. It also features Better Call Saul and This Is Spinal Tap star Michael McKean as Ally’s father.

Freeman came up with the original idea for the show before approaching Addison and Blackwell, both veterans of Armando Ianucci’s world of comedy. “I was sick of people not telling the truth. I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to admit that some aspects of parenting are really hard and it’s not all blessings and light and love. Most of my time with my kids is delightful and fun, and I’m sure it is for all of us, but the stuff that isn’t and the stuff that we show in the show is very real. It allows people license to feel how they feel,” he says.

The show, which is produced by Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Everything’s Going To Be OK producer Avalon Televison, premiered on FX on March 2 with episodes on Hulu the following the day. The four are now facing similar issues to Paul and Ally as they live in lockdown in the UK.

“Can you hear my kids screaming?,” jokes Haggard. “I’m genuinely loving it but I’m trying to write the second season of [BBC/Showtime black comedy] Back To Life at the moment and sometimes my kids are literally on my lap with their hands on my laptop so I have to delete some stuff from the script. It’s interesting. Me and my husband are trying to take turns and do two hours each and then the rest of the time, we’re just trying to make sure that they don’t have to go to A&E. I’m terrified they’re going to have an accident all the time because they’re getting more bored and a bit more dangerous and I’m aware that you can’t go to hospitals right now for any reason. Also, I haven’t brushed my hair for a month.”

Blackwell adds, “My youngest son has shaved his head. I bought some clippers, thinking we might need to have them if we’re going to be here for months and immediately he shaved it all off.”

“Everything says that they’re looking so shaggy and I’m thinking ‘you’ve been in the house for ten days’,” jokes Addison. “People have gone mad.”

Addison and his kids have been working out to viral British fitness trainer Joe Wicks, watching James Corden in The National Theatre adaptation of One Man, Two Guvnors online, while his daughter is ploughing through Harry Potter. “That must be amazing having kids who can read themselves,” deadpans Haggard.

Addison starred in The Thick Of It, which Blackwell wrote on, and he went on to direct episodes of Veep. In fact, Malcom Tucker, The Thick Of It’s main character played by Peter Capaldi, has become a PSA for the Coronavirus with the BBC sharing a clip of the show on social media to encourage people to stay at home. “Right people, listen up. It’s a f**king lockdown right now,’ Tucker screams.  ‘This is the f**king Shawshank Redemption, right, but with more tunnelling through s**t and no f**king redemption.”

“It’s nice that Malcolm is telling people to stay indoors, I would listen to him,” says Blackwell.

One COVID-19 related myth that Addison believes needs shattering is the idea that there will be a baby boom in nine months as a result of people being locked indoors. “That was a really weird thing that people said at the start of the lockdown, ‘think about all of the lockdown babies there’ll be’. Think about all of the lockdown divorces there’ll be. What happened when people went away to war was they didn’t have to bring their children with them and home-school them during the morning and then go to war in the afternoon. It’s an enormous contraceptive.”

Although Breeders has not been officially picked up for a second season, the team are keeping busy – they are considering launching a podcast and are already plotting ideas for a sophomore run. This has been more difficult as a result of the outbreak.

Blackwell says, “That’s going to be difficult for everybody writing every show set in the contemporary world because this is so huge and will only get bigger. Obviously, you don’t want everything to be about this virus, but it’s such an enormous thing and the biggest thing that’s going to happen in our lives, I imagine, it’s going to color everything. If you’re writing a contemporary show set before the virus, it’s like a period piece already because people have these odd customs like standing near each other and being outside. All writers are going to have to come to terms with how much [the Coronavirus] will be in your world. It has to be there somewhere; it’s like writing something set in 1943 and no one is in uniform, it’d be weird. That’s something for everyone to get their heads around.”

“Every writer is sitting in doors thinking about their Coronavirus piece right now but… we’ve been thinking how we make something like this, be our story rather than it leading the story. My guess is that once Coronavirus is over, no one will want to read about Coronavirus, that’s the last thing people are going to want to see films or plays about, they’re going to want something fun,” adds Addison. “They’ll want our brand of bleakness, not this brand of bleakness.”

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