Imagine for a moment that when you wake up tomorrow you will be in an entirely different body, perhaps even a different gender. That feeling of discomfort and apprehension is what eleven-year-old Max feels every day in a British limited series called Butterfly that made its stateside debut on Hulu on January 18th. Through three sixty-minute episodes, audiences will watch Max and his family struggle through a metamorphosis that will change all of them by the end.
Max has wished to be a girl since he was very young, something his parents hoped was a phase he would grow out of. Now separated, Max is allowed to be as girly as he wants at home with his mother, but must hide it all at school and when spending time with his father. After a suicide attempt, his parents decide to set aside their differences in Max’s best interest, although they don’t see eye-to-eye on what is best for their child.
Butterfly comes from a place of love and understanding to tell a story that will feel familiar to anyone in the transgender community and their loved ones. As Max’s parents fight their own internal conflicts to accepting and supporting their child’s need to be a girl, they will also have to become a champion and help the world see her for the beautiful person she is. But for every stride forward, there is always something that sets them back.
There’s a level of sophistication to the story, which is juxtaposed against soap opera style cliffhangers. While I’m not usually one for dramas, the transitions and shocks reminded me of Disney Channel’s Andi Mack, arguably the network’s best live action series in the past decade. With the central character’s age being similar as well, I was surprised by the rating of TV-MA. Looking solely at the reasons for these ratings, I can’t justify why the series would receive anything higher than TV-14.
Newcomer Callum Booth-Ford gives a winning performance as Max/Maxine, always feeling authentic in the role. Millie Gibson is another captivating actor as Max/Maxine’s supportive sister, while Emmett J. Scanlan strikes a tormented balance between supporting and loathing the situation he’s in as the father. But the real star of the series ends up being Max/Maxine’s mother, played by Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies). She sells every scene with such power and conviction. Her character also has the best evolution through the series and you can’t help but root for her the entire time.
Butterfly is another winning British import for Hulu, whose growing library of exclusive content includes a large number of UK productions. What sets this series apart from other stories about trans people is that Max is so young when he begins transforming into Maxine, which hits back against the parents who have grown to accept and support their child’s need for her external appearance to match what she feels on the inside.
I give Butterfly 5 out of 5 mermaid necklaces.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.