Monday, January 21, 2019

Pilot Grade: Butterfly

Butterfly (Hulu)
Premiered January 18

I watch so many shows that I’ve started to assume that all of them are dramas filled with mystery and violence, and seeing a show about a family unit that has their own problems but isn’t at each other throats is actually somewhat refreshing. If nothing else, this show is honest, featuring real people dealing head-on with modern-day issues for which they are not prepared. I know that the topic of transgender stories being told by cisgender men has been controversial recently, particularly with the Golden Globe-nominated Belgian film “Girl,” but this feels like a more sensitive take, though I did read that the National Health Service in the UK found the attempted suicide scene in this pilot problematic because it’s indicative of a trend that just doesn’t exist for those fitting this description in this age bracket. I do like that this show isn’t interested in simple answers, with Maxine, who I’ll refer to by female pronouns, expressing that she isn’t gay when her grandfather tried to talk about how this “trans thing is really fashionable” and how much simpler just being gay would be. Where this show definitely succeeds is in its portrayal of a broken marriage, one that is literally willed back together by a troubled child. Stephen reflecting back on the negative things he did when his son tried to express himself was powerful, and it’s hardly a forgiving turn. The only actor I knew before this project was Anna Friel, who I first encountered as the bubbly Chuck on “Pushing Daisies” and last saw passing out after a violent outburst on “Marcella,” and she’s good in a far more straightforward role than she usually has, demonstrating the complex feelings Vicky has in sacrificing so much of her life for her children. This is interesting stuff, and a worthwhile companion to films like “A Kid Like Jake” that represent gender exploration at a young age and how families approach it.

How will it work as a series? This is only three episodes long, so this is a considerable sample of what to expect. This first hour just starts to address what Maxine is feeling, finally presenting herself as female towards its end, and I assume that what’s to come will look more deeply at what the implications are socially both for Maxine and for her parents.
How long will it last? This show premiered to good ratings and mostly good reviews on ITV in October, airing one episode per week, and now debuting on Hulu all at once. I don’t imagine there’s necessarily more to the story, but, as is always the case with these very limited series, it’s possible that similar stories could be produced as new anthology chapters if this proves a popular hit.

Pilot grade: B+

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