They say one shouldn't judge a book
by its cover, and I think it's a reasonable corollary to say that one
shouldn't judge a DVD by its cover, either. I have to admit, though,
that I was rather put off from Butterflies from the first
sight of its oddly garish and awkward cover art. But in any case,
that was just the first impression; I had never heard of the show
before (though it seems to have been quite popular in Britain when it
first aired, as it ran from 1978 to 1983).
The "shocking" nature of
the premise, which writer/creator Carla Lane discusses in the
interesting interview in the special features section, is probably
the most intriguing part of this comedy series. In 1978, a comedy
about a woman seriously contemplating having an affair, because she's
bored with her life and her dour husband and bickering teenaged sons
give her little satisfaction, was not the thing. Not the thing at
all. But Lane persisted, and Butterflies was brought to life,
starring Wendy Craig as Ria, the woman in question, and Geoffrey
Palmer as her butterfly-collecting dentist husband.
Just because something had some bite
to it in 1978, though, doesn't mean it has much punch nowadays. It's
impossible to say how I'd have taken it in its original context, but
in watching the series now, I found it shrill and overdone. The jokes
are forced and obvious, and all the actors seem to be heavily
overplaying their characters; in Butterflies' defense, that
seems to have been the style for television comedy in the late 1970s
and early 1980s, but it doesn't keep it from feeling awkward now. The
laugh track is also rather obtrusive, even more so than a typical
laugh track; it's loud and seems, again, rather forced.
The series might have succeeded on
the strength of its characters even if the humor wasn't up to snuff,
but despite the central theme being Ria's midlife crisis, neither she
nor the other characters really come off as realistic. It's also
undeniable that the show looks extremely dated, which is just one
more element creating a distance between us and the characters.
Butterflies: Series 1
contains all six thirty-minute episodes from the show's first season.
They can be selected separately or viewed with a "play all"
feature, which is very nice. The chapter stops are also well placed,
so it's possible to skip the opening credits.
Butterflies looks passable
but uninspired here. It's presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect
ratio, and looks its age. The image is fairly soft, with edge
enhancement and noticeable, but not obtrusive, dark borders around
objects. Some flaws appear in the image,
particularly in the outdoor shots, and overall it tends to have a
faint brownish tinge. Watchable, but 1970s-looking.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is
serviceable but I have to admit that it grated on my nerves after a
while; the laugh track is simply too loud with respect to the rest of
the dialogue. Apart from that, it sounds adequate.
Fans of the show will be interested
in the 11-minute interview with writer/creator Carla Lane. Filmed in
2002 (and presented in anamorphic widescreen), the interview gives a
quite interesting perspective on the show and its origins. Text
production notes and cast filmographies are also included.
I'm guessing that Butterflies
is a love-it-or-hate-it series; in my case, I didn't connect at all
with the main character, and in fact didn't find her or any of the
characters to be realistic or three-dimensional at all (or even
interesting as one-dimensional characters, for that matter). Fans of
the show will find it to be worth picking up, despite the bland
transfer, and will enjoy the short interview with the writer/creator.
Overall I'm going to say "skip it" since I really didn't
care for it at all (and I typically do enjoy British comedy), but of
course that doesn't apply if you're a fan.