The great British sitcom

Discussion in 'TV Central' started by Mel O'Drama, Sep 17, 2016.

  1. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    That's an excellent point. The more serious elements of the series bring depth to it and also make it feel evenly weighted. There's no sense of swinging wildly between funny and serious moments as may have been the tendency. Moments are allowed to be both at the same time. While I enjoyed some of the US Dramedy fad in the mid-Noughties (shows like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty), they could feel a little bipolar at times, and tended to tell the viewer through use of quirky music and extreme situations when we were supposed to laugh and when we were supposed to be hooked on the drama.

    I think Carla Lane's writing was complemented by the subtler elements of the production, too. I'm watching Butterflies with someone and during a conversation about it the other day he observed that there was no laughter on it. I'd thought there was (and it turns out there was) but I couldn't be certain and had to listen out for it because it's that inconspicuous, has lots of huge pauses and allows for the silence of more serious moments. Last night I watched one of the new Will & Grace episodes back-to-back with Butterflies and during a scene of an unpleasant revelation the audience made a loud, collective booing kind of sound which made the moment far less impactive for me.

    In the huge gap between the third and fourth series of Butterflies, I remember watching her playing lead in a period drama called Nanny. It's only recently that I discovered she also created the series. Apparently she used a pseudonym when pitching it to the BBC because she thought they may not take her seriously otherwise. I know more recently she's had a long - and presumably successful - run in another period drama The Royal.

    The only other series I remember watching her in is one I'd rather forget. She played Annie - the Rose equivalent - in Brighton Belles which was a short-lived British remake of The Golden Girls. I haven't seen the series since it first aired some twenty five years ago, but I do remember it felt very much like karaoke TV and had none of the charm and vibrant energy of the original.

    Two of Wendy's pre-Butterflies vehicles are on my Britcom bucket list: ...And Mother Makes Three and its sequel series ...And Mother Makes Five. Whenever I get round to watching, both will be completely new to me.


    Thanks - I suspect it will be a fairly short trip as I'm already midway through Series Two. I'm really trying to pace myself a little though.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  2. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    1,249
    Trophy Points:
    4,896
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Sunny South Florida
    Ratings:
    +2,206
    Member Since:
    June 10, 2000
    Yeah, I had heard she was Brighton Belles but made no effort to seek it out because your opinion on it pretty much matches everyone else's. In cases like that, I just hope she got paid really well for it.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    There's a very outdoorsy feel to Butterflies, isn't there? A great deal of location filming in parks and high streets which really opens things up.

    Even having given it some thought, I can't think of another series or film that is set in Cheltenham. With all the Regency architecture it's a very photogenic town. I visit it fairly regularly and so recognise places like Hatherley Park and the town centre. It seems to have changed very little, though the time capsule comes from seeing both chains and little independent shops that are now long gone.

    The cars continue to be fun to watch. That Mini, of course, being the most memorable. Leonard being driven round in a lime green Ford Granada makes me smile no end. It seems such an ordinary car for such pretentiousness - particularly with Michael Ripper in his full chauffeur clobber. Seeing Austin Allegros parked outside rather grand houses fits the same category.
     
  4. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
  5. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    Series Two of Butterflies has been even more engaging than the first. There's a sense that all involved know what is working and are utilising it to the benefit of the series. Everything is working perfectly at this point.

    The fox hunting episode encapsulated Lane's penchant for animal welfare without sacrificing the credibility of the series. Certainly, it's one of the bigger moments for Ria. As I said i an earlier post, I'm very appreciative of the small moments, but I've grown to love the bigger, slightly more surreal scenes. They illustrate a duality to Ria's world - and Ria herself. Which is exactly the point.

    I'm also appreciating the continued segregation that's grown out of Ria's two lives. It feels very organic. I hadn't even really considered that Ben and Leonard hadn't had a scene together… until they had the briefest of encounters in the park when running, as Ria watched on with horror.

    There's also the question of collusion. Even for those characters who are partly aware of Ria and Leonard's relationship, there's a question not only about how much they know, but also about how much they care. Russell and Adam kind of, sort of know but are fairly disinterested. Ria's guest, the pushy, narcissistic Suzanne knew what was going on and has been the one opportunity for Ria to have a relatively straightforward conversation about the situation (not that she said too much). So Suzanne briefly became to Ria what Thomas is to Leonard. But it was right that Suzanne would immediately hop on the train after the conversation. Ria needs to be on her own with things. It's kind of her raison d'être.

    And then there's Ben himself. What I've found interesting watching this as an adult is that he's not the enemy. Far from it. He's thoughtless at times, reluctant to partake in any kind of housework and very set in his ways, certainly. But he has mostly met even the wackiest of Ria's outbursts with very little judgement. And he can be very thoughtful, from spontaneously wanting to take Ria out to dinner to perceiving and indulging Ria's wants at a particular moment in time - whether it's going to see a saucy French film or hanging round the living room in warm towels. For all his shortcomings it's Ria who is not taking the time to consider her partner's needs.

    This time round, what's occurred to me is that even though the premise seems to hinge very much on the will she/won't she around betraying her husband and consummating her relationship with Leonard, Ria has actually already done both. The emotional infidelity has already taken place and continues to do so. And the web gets more tangled with each encounter between Ria and Leonard. If things came out into the open even at this stage, Ria's up the creek. And it's a credit to Lane's writing that I care about that.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    Oh - Ria preparing the strawberry jelly!! It's been a while since I laughed quite so heartily. Wonderful scene. So simple, but quite hilarious.

    From 7.10...



    She could have served it as an Eton mess.

    Notice how the audience starts tittering when the TV cook flips his jelly upside down and takes the bowl away. This is before Ria even attempted it, but I too was already laughing at this point because I knew what was coming. With her cooking, the anticipation adds to the joy. Every time she even mentions cooking or going into the kitchen there's that knowledge that something disastrous can - and will - happen.

    My favourite line of the episode came in the scene immediately following the jelly debacle. On learning that Russell has got Jean pregnant and plans to marry her even though he can't afford either of these luxuries, Ria - trying her hardest to smile through her shock- says:

    The structure of this arc was perfect. I really appreciated that Russell was entirely on his own with the ultimate knowledge that Jean wanted to keep the baby but didn't want marriage. While Ria and Leonard - who had jumped to the conclusion that she wasn't pregnant after all - were living in blissful ignorance. Drama somehow means more when there's a solitary aspect.
     
  7. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    There's a definite feeling of building excitement as we near the end of Series Three. Each of the three series so far has been better than the one before. Series Three has been perfection, with a wonderful mix of comedy and poignancy.

    With the huge gap between Series Three and Four, I can only imagine that there was the possibility of this being the final couple of episodes. The writing certainly suggests things are coming to a head. First there was Ria confiding in her old schoolfriend about Leonard. In scenes where said friend came into Ria's home discussing it blatantly there was a degree of suspense, knowing that there were others in the house. It was interesting to see Ria going to anger and ordering the woman from her home. And just when I thought Ria was going to be alone with her secret again, Adam heard everything.

    Adam's response to the situation was interesting. It felt a little strange to see a son quite so laid back about his mother's affair, even before she justified it by saying that "nothing" had happened. But it was right in character for him to be laid back about it, especially given his attitude towards sex, and showed a depth to the character that we haven't seen much of before, particularly when he revealed he'd had a relationship with an older, married woman. Between this and Russell's brush with fatherhood I feel the characters have been so rich this year.

    And now Leonard has asked to see Ria before he goes away. I can't remember how I felt when watching this when I was young, but I can imagine the audience giving much brain time to the upcoming meeting in the week that passed between the penultimate episode and the final one of the series. Even now, I can see this was a daring move for a sitcom of the era.

    I'm a little excited about seeing what happens next.
     
  8. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    The end of Butterflies approaches, with just two episodes of the entire series to watch.

    Ben has become the most interesting character on the show. His British, middle class reserve and old-fashioned values could have turned him into a caricature. Instead, as the series has progressed, Carla Lane has peeled back the layers, revealing sides of him to the viewer that nobody else on the show is aware of.

    Ria has her soliloquies, certainly. But we've spent a great deal of time getting to know her and she's gained more and more support and has people to confide in and collude with: Leonard, of course, but also Thomas, her sons, Ruby and the occasional friend.

    Ben seems to be very much alone with his concerns. There's no confidant. He doesn't even voice his fears out loud to himself as Ria does. Ben internalises it all. This leaves the viewer in the position of trying to work him out: to wonder how much he knows, and what he is thinking. We've seen him being given pieces of the puzzle and are left to decide for ourselves what that might mean for him. The last episode saw him answer the phone to Leonard - the first time, I believe, they've heard each other's voices. There have been other moments like this. Rather than Ria's forte of full on meltdowns, Ben shows just the occasional flicker of concern, unseen by anyone else. There was a beautifully poignant scene in the second series (or perhaps the third) where Ria spoke to Ben as he slept, bewailing the fact that he could sleep contentedly while she was awake and worrying. The camera then panned to Ben's bedside table where a bottle of sleeping tablets stood (earlier in the episode he'd commented in passing that he wasn't sleeping well because his mind was racing). It's moments like this that make Ben one of the most fascinating "sitcom" characters I've encountered.

    The seeds for Lane's later project Bread, too, seem to have been sown in Butterflies, particularly with the various crises of the sons and their lack of employment. Butterflies takes a more subtle approach to commentary on Thatcher's Britain than Bread, but they're both very much on the same page.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    2,925
    Trophy Points:
    5,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Ratings:
    +5,592
    Member Since:
    28th September 2008
    Lest I forget to post a final thought:

    The third series of Butterflies ended on what felt like a very final note. It left me wondering if the fourth would be as fitting. In terms of the Ria/Leonard/Ben story, I'm torn. Leonard leaving for New York at the end of Series Three should in all probability have ended the story. In many ways, Series Four didn't tread any new ground other than building on Ben's suspicions.

    After a point, there was a cyclical undercurrent to the whole show that made the viewer question why Ria kept going back. A bit like JR and Sue Ellen. Though Ria and Leonard made more sense when it was considered that there was a kind of unfinished business. It was emotional infidelity and both seemed to feel it wasn't an affair because there wasn't a physical aspect. In every conversation Ria had about Leonard, the phrase "nothing's happened" or some variation thereof came up.

    But then when this is considered - that Ria felt her affair of the mind with Leonard was harmless - her journey through the final series did bring something new. By the end of it, she'd kind of, sort of recognised that she had a very real choice to make. And this was satisfactory enough, although by series' end, with Ria having done a Deirdre by walking out briefly before deciding to return to the comforting safety of her familiar home and husband, there was still a sense that she was still not quite truly conscious of the consequences of her actions other than the effect they had on her. Overall, I found Ria both endearingly ditzy and self deprecating while at the same time frustratingly self-centred (and the very worst kind of self-centred - the martyred type who feels they give too much). A very curious combination that made her a very interesting, very real lead.

    The soap watcher in me wanted a scene between Ben and Leonard. Not necessarily a confrontation, but perhaps a scene of mutual understanding. A scene where they found common ground or a degree of empathy for the other. Still, I can live with what we were given. The final line of the series was perfect and resonated with me for some time after watching.

    So the main story didn't have a degree of finality. Or at least, it was no more final than the end of the series before. There's a sense that we could easily have returned for a Series Five and the story would have gone on. Or perhaps the story went on anyway, regardless of screen time.

    Where the series scores is in giving a satisfying end to subplots of previous years - particularly those of Russell and Adam. Both had a form of closure and their respective reunions were just enough for this viewer to be left wanting more.
     
    • Like Like x 2

Share This Page