Butterfly has its share of problems, but it’s also an important and admirable drama that’ll resonate with people who need it.
Look, I know, Butterfly is a really on-the-nose title for a show about an 11-year-old boy transitioning into an 11-year-old girl. It doesn’t do ITV’s new drama any favours, which is a shame, because despite the fact it has its share of issues, Butterfly is a thoughtful and challenging attempt at shining a mainstream spotlight on an issue that is increasingly common but not increasingly understood.
The 11-year-old is Max (Callum Booth-Ford), who wants to live as Maxine. That she seems a little young to be coming to such a significant realisation is a large part of the confusion and anger shared by her estranged parents, Vicky (Anna Friel) and Stephen (Emmett J Scanlan). It’s easy to consider this scenario from a remove and feel it’s easy; either his parents should be completely accepting of Maxine’s decision, or they should resist it, depending on where you stand. But that’s an absurdly naïve interpretation of how this kind of transition can effect an entire family – when you have to decide, for instance, whether to postpone your child’s puberty through medication, I imagine you’d feel as though that decision wasn’t entirely black and white.
This, obviously, is why Butterfly is important, as it’s exploring these issues on primetime, mainstream British television. The show’s cleverly written enough that it hones in on the anguish of the parents and their struggle to understand what their child is going through, rather than have either of them too easily accept what is, to be fair, a bamboozling scenario. (Parenting is hard enough as it is.) So the impulse of Vicky and Stephen to believe Max’s desire to be Maxine is merely a phase, a quirk of growing up, is totally understandable, and it’s that’s how the audience latch onto the story.
It’ll be the next two episodes that determine how successful Butterfly is long-term. The show has a bit of an issue with trying to get points across with brute force rather than finesse, and in the first episode we never really get a sense of what the transition really means to Maxine. But for all its flaws, Butterfly can be seen as vital TV of a kind that might even qualify as a public service for families who are going through the same thing. And wherever you stand on the issue, those families are out there, watching, and they’re as deserving of a show like this as you are or I are of shows about people like us.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.