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Series / Butterflies

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The Parkinsons. Left to right: Russell, Ben, Ria and Adam

Leonard: We are all kids chasing butterflies. You see it, you want it, you grab it, and there it is, all squashed in your hand.
Ria: I am one of the few lucky ones, I have a pleasant house, a pleasant man and two pleasant sons. My butterfly didn't get squashed.
— (dialogue between two people contemplating an affair)

Butterflies was a British sitcom series written by Carla Lane that was broadcast on BBC2 from 1978 to 1983.

The situation is the day-to-day life of the Parkinsons, a typical upper-middle-class British family living in what was taken to be a smart suburb of Londonnote , presented in a tragicomic and somewhat bittersweet style. There are both traditional comedy sources (Ria's cooking, family squabbles) and more unusual sources such as Ria's mid-life crisis which has her teetering on the brink of an affair with Leonard, a somewhat more romantic and dashing man than her dour dentist husband. This unconsummated relationship with the outwardly-successful Leonard drives the plot. Ria is still in love with her husband, Ben, and has raised two generally well-adjusted but lazy sons, yet finds herself dissatisfied and in need of something more. Throughout the series Ria searches for that "something more" and finds some solace in her unconventional friendship with Leonard. In a 2002 interview, Carla Lane explained, "I wanted to write a comedy about a woman contemplating adultery."

Tropes pinned to a backing board like butterflies in a collection include:

  • Awful Wedded Life: Ben and Ria. Not so much "awful" as perhaps, from Ria's point of view, unemotional and somewhat stifling.
  • The Alleged Car: The Mini-Cooper nominally belonging to the sons but which Ria is often forced to drive.
  • British Brevity: There were only twenty-eight episodes released in four seasons.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Ria's atrocious cooking.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The lower social orders. Ben and Ria's cleaning lady Ruby; and Leonard's chauffeur Thomas. Both get to make some devastatingly accurate and honest comments on their employers. Generally to their faces.
  • Dom Com: A more genteel British sort.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Subverted when after Ria gives Adam and Russell the lecture on cannabis use, she tries it out for herself and realises it's quite nice...
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The dour Ben Parkinson has a passion for butterfly collecting. His wife Ria suspects he shows more emotion to his butterflies than he does to her. She begins to suspect she is just another butterfly in a collection, pinned to a board and imprisoned there, unable to fly.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The Dolly Parton song used as the theme neatly sets out the premis of the show.
  • Lethal Chef: Ria. Her husband and sons make excuses and eat elsewhere.
  • Romantic Comedy: Ria's search for validation and a sense of romance, first in her marriage to Ben and second in her almost-affair with Leonard.
  • Speaking Like Totally Teen: The cringingly outdated teen slang used by Ben and Ria's two sons.
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing: The BBC's deluxe version, the Affluent Suburbian Detached House, gets an outing here denoting this is a family headed by an extremely well-paid professional (Ben Parkinson is a dentist in private practice. In socially exclusive Cheltenham.)
  • The Stoic: Ben Parkinson. Often to the point where Ria wonders what she could possibly do or say to provoke any sort of a response.
  • Two Decades Behind: One decade behind in this case: sons Adam and Russell and their 1960's slang and jargon, jarring in the 1970's. They were still hippies when punk rock was just beginning.