It all began with a dream – Martin Freeman’s dream in which he attempts to control his emotions as he yet again confronts his young children who are making a noise upstairs.
The dream occurred five or six years ago. “I knew I’d gone through this many times in real life. I was going up the stairs to shout at my children,” he recalls.
“With each step I was talking myself down ‘You know you’re better than this and they won’t respond positively.’
“I thought I’d got the better of my temper before I opened the children’s bedroom door, but I opened the door and exploded.”
That incident from inside Freeman’s sub-conscious became the inspiration for Breeders, the pacey, sweary, ten-part Sky One parenting comedy. He plays long-suffering passive-aggressive, fortysomething parent, Paul.
Freeman co-created Breeders with director Chris Addison and writer Simon Blackwell. The pair are best known perhaps for their collaborations with Armando Iannucci having worked together on such comic gems as The Thick Of It.
The three joined actor Daisy Haggard, who plays Paul’s wife Ally in the show, for an RTS discussion on the series.
“That scene became the opening episode of a comedy that spoke to what it truly means to be a parent in mine and Chris and Simon’s shared experience,” says Freeman.
“We found enough common ground between the three of us – all the stuff you don’t say in polite society and all the truths you’re harbouring about how you sometimes speak to your kids.”
Blackwell described some of the meetings the trio had to brainstorm Breeders, produced by Avalon and FX Productions, as being “like therapy.” “It felt like we were in a support group,” he recalls.
Clearly the show stuck a chord with modern parents juggling full-time work alongside sleepless nights or securing a place at a decent state school.
“Audiences have thanked us for saying the things we didn’t think we were allowed to say,” says Addison. “Making Breeders has been cathartic.”
TV shows about parenting are, as Freeman conceded, hardly new. One of his favourite shows is Outnumbered, which used a lot of improvisation to depict the ups and downs of family life.
Breeders, on the other hand, is tightly scripted despite its naturalism. “Parenting young kids is such an intense and fragmented experience we decided to pack the show with stories and flash backwards, forwards and sideways.” explains Blackwell.
“Once we got the structure for the individual episodes, we worked out the story arc. We knew we were wanted to be by the end of episode ten.”
“The naturalism is a testament to the cast,” says Addison.
As for playing Paul, Freeman acknowledged that he is effectively playing himself. “If there is ever a character that is as close to me as possible, then it’s Paul and it’s unashamedly so.”
He added: “I enjoy playing a character close to myself because it takes off the pressure of ‘Oh you’ve got to do a limp or an accent or whatever.’
“Paul’s not me but he’s quite like me. The idea was to get as close to the truth of parenting in a comedic setting.
“I loved Outnumbered. They struck gold but what was always missing is why is someone not threatening to put someone’s head through a window?”
The timing for Haggard’s involvement in Breeders could hardly have been better- and immediately resonated with her own parenting experience.
“I’d just had my second child when I got called to the audition. I could hardly walk and was exhausted, but I read the script and it was brilliant,” she says. “It made me laugh so much but I thought ‘How was I going to do this?’
“I already had a three-year-old. I remember sitting at home on the floor rocking the baby in a car seat with my foot while my husband held the script out in front of me so I could read it.”
Breeders was a RTS event held on January 11. The session was chaired by journalist and broadcaster Edith Bowman. A full report will be published in the February edition of Television.