It’s about time. TV shows have finally woken up to the possibility of depicting parenthood – real parenthood – in all its spiky, four letter word glory, and it’s completely refreshing.
You don’t have to be a parent yourself to recognise the family dynamics in a show like Martin Freeman’s Breeders, which explores “the paradox that every parent knows but never admits: you would willingly die for your children, but quite often you also want to kill them.”.
Most kids remember the first time their parents accidentally swore in front of them, which happens pretty frequently in Breeders, with Freeman’s character even letting slip the odd c-word.
It’s a far cry from previous on-screen depictions of parenthood. I remember watching Outnumbered when it first came out, and although its portrayal of family life felt a bit more realistic at the time, looking back there was still a kind of pre-watershed, family-friendly gloss to it. Rather than being sweary and exhausted, the Outnumbered parents were affable and bumbly, and continually outsmarted by their precocious younger kids.
Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard in Breeders (Sky)
There She Goes, another dark comedy drama, is also returning this Thursday for a second season, and hopefully its new slot on BBC Two (rather than BBC Four) will mean that its own particular brand of painfully funny parenting will reach a larger audience.
In There She Goes, David Tennant and Jessica Hynes play a couple (Simon and Emily) whose daughter, Rosie, has a severe learning disability. The show is written by Shaun Pye and Sarah Crawford, whose own daughter was born in 2006 with an undiagnosed chromosomal disorder.
Their real-life experiences and personal anecdotes form the basis of the TV series, and you can absolutely tell – the whole show rings with truth, and not only for parents of disabled children. As David Tennant recently told RadioTimes.com and other press, “[The show is] obviously about parenting a very unique child, but it’s also just about parenting, and about how hit and miss that is, and how any one of us as a parent never feels that we’re ever getting it right.”
Season two’s opening episode is as bitingly honest as ever, interweaving the darker flashbacks of 2007 and Rosie’s diagnosis, and the lighter 2017 timeline. As a toddler, Rosie visits a geneticist and is revealed to have an IQ of 47. Simon in particular struggles with the news, smoking and drinking in the backyard after dark and leaving Emily alone with Rosie.
Jessica Hynes in There She Goes season 2 (BBC)
Flash forward to 2017, and Rosie is eleven-years-old and attending a school for special educational needs and disabilities – and Simon is paranoid that some of the other parents ‘look down’ on him, as Rosie doesn’t require a wheelchair. Or perhaps the real problem- as Emily points out – is that at the school he can no longer play the sympathy card in conversation.
He also refuses to take the school sports day seriously (something that perhaps many parents will relate to), and when Rosie runs off in a completely opposite direction to the sprinting race finish line, he quips that she’ll probably get a certificate for participation anyway.
Tennant’s performance in the series reminded me of a moment in the brilliant lockdown satire Staged, in which he also stars – this time as an exaggerated version of himself – alongside his wife Georgia Tennant. In one scene, Georgia (afternoon wine glass in hand) reveals that she’s packed their kids off to the sofa to watch films for the day, rather than face homeschooling a four-year-old (which is “pointless” anyway).
The moment proved that the messier portrayals of parenting in shows like Breeders and There She Goes are now cropping up in TV shows that aren’t specifically about parenting at all.
As Tennant told RadioTimes.com and other press, his own experience of being a parent was “hit and miss, and full of triumphs and disasters” – and that reality is exactly how parenting should be shown on-screen.
There She Goes season two will begin on 9th July 2020 at 9.30pm on BBC Two (marking a move from BBC Four). Check out what else is on with our TV Guide