Since television began, the medium has only really offered up an idealised notion of child rearing. From early sitcom classics such as Father's Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver through 1980s staples such as Family Ties and Growing Pains, and even into TV's Golden Age, with shows like Modern Family and Black-ish.
Some of the more recent examples have purported to "get real" by showing how much of a "nightmare" parenting can be, but none have come remotely close to portraying the soul-crushing, despair-inducing, sleep-deprived s**t show that being a parent often is.
That disparity between popular fiction and lived reality inspired British actor Martin Freeman, best known for The Office, Sherlock and The Hobbit trilogy, to co-create a new comedy series called Breeders, in which he also stars.
"Hopefully to show that that's what we all feel about parenting," Freeman tells TimeOut. "Which is a three dimensional experience. Some of it is hilarious, some of it's terrifying and some of it's grief, often within the same hour. I don't think [we've seen that] in a TV comedy context to this extent."
Breeders follows London couple Paul (Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard - Episodes) and the variety of struggles they face raising 7-year-old Luke (George Wakeman) and toddler Ava (Jayda Eyles). The bracing approach to the topic asserts itself early in episode one, where before even the two-minute mark where Paul is casually joking about which duvet would be most effective for murdering both of his children.
"When you become a parent," says Breeders co-creator Simon Blackwell (The Thick Of It), "you're given this perfect human being and told you're gonna bring this human being up and let them go into the world. And theoretically you'll do it perfectly. But you won't, you will fail. And that's kind of what we're talking about here."
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"I think it's just to take some of the guilt away," adds the show's third co-creator, Chris Addison (Veep). "To say this is how it is and sometimes it's really difficult to bring up your kids and you will always love them, but they will also drive you mad if we can be honest about it."
After coming up with the germ of the idea, Freeman joined experienced comedy TV producers Blackwell and Addison for a series of lunches where they fleshed out the concept.
"It ended up kind of being like a father's support group," says Freeman. "We talked about some of the worst things that we've done or that have happened to us as parents."
Freeman says he was committed to being completely honest about the maddening realities of raising children.
"I genuinely don't think anything should be off limits," says Freeman. "To do it in a comedic way, it's a really nice challenge. Characters you can still laugh at and hopefully love and relate to. But second by second, they can be lovely with their kids, or demonic. And I think part of our challenge is to keep that funny and light. I would love to put as bad a thing as you could put in."
Freeman says his own children, now aged 11 and 14, know they are the catalyst for the show.
"If anyone ever asks me: 'What's Breeders about?', my kids will pipe up and say 'It's a show about how much you hate us'."
The show features many moments where Paul and Ally verbally lose their s**t at Luke and Ava, and Freeman says measures were taken to prevent the child actors from being exposed to too much swearing.
"There are rules about what they can and can't see and hear. If there's a lot of swearing in the scene, we do a cleaned-up dialogue version, and then once the kids have left we get to do the swearing."
Even so, there were times when the child actors had to be reassured.
"[There was] a scene where I'm screaming and cursing at them," says Freeman. "And lovely little George, who plays my son Luke, he was fine with it and then about two minutes later, he was quite upset, so we had to go and explain that this is all acting. [I said] 'I do think that about you a little bit, but not a lot'."
Who: Martin Freeman, Simon Blackwell and Chris Addison
What: Brit parenting comedy Breeders
When: Tonight 8.00pm on SoHo2 and streaming on Neon
TV'S BEST BAD PARENTS
Seinfeld: The Costanzas
Jerry's best mate George inherited just about every complex going from his folks, the short-tempered, TV Guide-collecting Frank and the overbearing and screechy Estelle Costanza. How bad were they? Well, Frank boycotted Christmas in favour of his own festive tradition, Festivus, which included such child-friendly fare as The Feats of Strength and The Airing of Grievances.
Family Guy: The Griffins
Peter and Lois Griffin are terrible, terrible parents. One's a borderline alcoholic and the other's an egotistical nightmare. While they do tuck their children in at night that's about where their loving environment ends. How bad are they? Well, one kid's dimmer than an old lightbulb, another's super self-conscious and insecure and their baby is constantly plotting to murder mum.
Everybody Loves Raymond: The Barones
Poor old Ray. He finally grows up, moves out, weds, has kids and then finds himself living right across the road from his folks, Frank and Marie. Prone to the "pop-in", his parents are always - and we mean always - around. The overbearing and intrusive Marie has no problem hiding her disdain for Ray's wife Debra, while Frank is so comfortable in his son's house that he's frequently sprawled out in an armchair, pants unzipped, reading the paper or watching sports while dropping sarcastic remarks at anybody and everybody. Boundaries people.
Game of Thrones: The Lannisters
On one (fake, gold) hand you could say Cersei and Jaime have great qualities to pass down; confidence, intelligence, valour and good looks. But . . . it didn't quite work out that way. Instead their incestuous pairing - which is disturbing enough -passed down their worst traits on to Joffrey, a power-crazed, blood thirsty, psychotic monster who was truly a bastard in both senses of the word.