Firefly Lane is Netflix light drama, created by Maggie Friedman and starring Katherine Heigl, Sarah Chalke, Roan Curtis and Ali Skovbye. The show is an adaptation of the 2008 historical fiction novel Firefly Lane, written by Kristin Hannah. Like the book, the show is a story of a lifelong friendship between a housewife Kate Mularkey (Chalke, Curtis) and successful talk-show host Tully Heart (Heigl, Skovbye). Friedman, the former showrunner of Witches of East End, felt the story needed to be told for the unique aspects of Kate and Tully’s personalities in the framework of ‘each has what the other wants’.
Although the show is often compared to other Netflix soaps, such as Sweet Magnolias and Virgin River, I don’t see much in common. Save for an occasional trope and a couple of plotholes, Firefly Lane can not compare to shows where a character can stay pregnant with the same twins for over 5 seasons. It’s simply not that. Other Netflix soaps lack things like character development and social commentary, while Firefly Lane does both and does it quite well. Firefly Lane may not be in the same category as some other Netflix shows that feature family themes, such as Bloodline, but it is also very far from being new Tidelands.
At the time of writing this article only season 1 and the first half of season 2 have been released, with the second half of season 2 announced for June 2023. This review will contain mild spoilers, so beware. With that in mind, let’s dive into the Firefly Lane review.
Story: Firefly Lane Loves Its Social Commentary
Why is it that we still cling to and talk about “girl problems” now when women have so much freedom? Why is this story relevant? Two reasons. Firstly, this is the first time we can talk about it. This is the first time society is ready for us to talk about it and the media is giving us room for it. Secondly, historical facts should be general knowledge and must be documented as an actual first-account experience, be it through social movements or fictional stories based on real experiences.
Firefly Lane Shows It Like It Is
This show takes full and shame-free advantage of that fact and uses it to drive its point home. Firefly Lane addresses manifest and latent sexism and touches on the “socially appropriate” way for women to react to it. The perfect example of that is Tully’s talk-show episode on miscarriage, where she shared her story with her audience and encouraged other women to open up about their grief.
This plot takes place in 2002 and, at that time, Tully’s sponsors didn’t receive the episode very well. They dropped the talk show. As a person who remembers the 00s very well, I can say that this is very realistic, back then such an episode would be controversial business-wise and otherwise. Today, 20 years later, such topics are welcome on the media scene, and I think Firefly Lane points this out very well. It has a constant theme of women’s rights and shows exactly what patriarchy could get away with in each given decade (the 70s, 80s/90s and 00s).
Firefly Lane Strips Things Bare
Firefly Lane also touches on the experiences of white, middle-class gay men through the eyes of Kate’s brother Sean Mularkey (Jason McKinnon). Sean was afraid of coming out his whole life and worked hard to live up to society’s expectations. He struggled to conceal his real self through decades, even going as far as getting married to a woman and fathering children. It wasn’t until the 00s that he felt safe and he finally came out in his 40s. The scene at the table when he finally does is crucial for the understanding of his character’s struggles, as his mother feels the need to reference watching Will and Grace as a way of saying that she accepts him.
Firefly Lane draws a good comparison between Kate’s brother Sean and her teenage daughter Marah (Yael Yurman), who is also gay. Sean didn’t struggle with understanding his sexuality; he always knew he was gay. Marah seems to be the same; they both discovered themselves early on in life. However, how their parents reacted and the framework the society has given them was vastly different. While Sean struggled for many decades, Marah was free to be who she was from the get-go. Sean’s parents never felt like a safe environment to open up, while Kate and Johnny were happy to learn something new about their child.
Characters & Performances: Firefly Lane Girls Forever
Kate and Tully have been friends since they were 14. Many reviewers call them ‘unlikely’ friends who have nothing in common, but I disagree. In fact, they reflect each other on another level. For example, they both enjoyed the complete exclusivity of their clique duo, which is clearly visible in the relationship dynamics between them and their colleague Lottie.
Then, both of them wanted the other one’s mother. Kate wanted a mom who was authentic, albeit nuts. Tully wanted a loving, reliable, stay-at-home and make-my-dinner kind of mom. And, since they were best friends, in a way, they both got them both. Maybe the most notable thing they have in common is that they both suffer from low self-esteem, although neither of them realizes it.
Who Is Tully?
Tully is incapable of having a single real romantic relationship, which is explored in her relationships with Max Brody (Jon-Michael Ecker) and Danny Diaz (Ignacio Serricchio). The one with Danny hardly felt like a relationship at all (save for their constant bickering and hot chemistry), and the one with Max felt like a real deal until Tully’s issues caught on.
Her mom Cloud (Beau Garrett) was a beatnik and drug addict. Cloud often embarrassed herself publicly, landed in prison and overall neglected Tully. Despite Tully’s many attempts to get her mom straight, she never did. And because her mom never had a true desire to do better for Tully’s sake, Tully grew up believing she is not worthy of having a real family. Now, it is something that she can only experience through her friendship with Kate and by being a member of Kate’s family.
Who Is Kate?
Kate, on the other hand, sees people around her through some sort of tiers of hotness. She believes herself to be less attractive and successful than Tully and her own husband Johnny (Ben Lawson). In her mind, she is a few tiers below them and thus somehow less worthy. This is especially apparent on a couple of occasions when she tells Johnny that he is ‘out of her league’. One of those occasions happened after 15 years of marriage, divorce and reconciliation which shows how, even in her early 40s, she still firmly holds that worldview.
Kate feels like a wallflower, like someone who is fading into the background. In that respect, she mirrors her mother Margie (Chelah Horsdal), even to the point of having a platonic affair. She fears establishing her own distinct identity and sees her friendship with Tully as a way to escape the mundane, escape the upper-middle-class stereotype she’s been living her whole life and venture into the realms of upper tiers of hotness.
In a nutshell, Kate and Tully’s friendship is realistic and natural. Superficial characteristics and interests are not what bonds them. Instead, they are bonded on a deeper psychological level. The needs they unconsciously fulfill for one another create true BBFs.
Spot on Performances From All Four Actresses
The story takes us through three timelines in Kate and Tully’s lives- their teenage, young adult and mature years. Each era brings different challenges and tests their friendship. The chemistry between Heigl and Chalke is spot on, and nothing less goes for Curtis and Skovbye.
Ali Skovbye, who played teenage Tully, understood her character from the get-go and portrayed it very convincingly. Roan Curtis, as teenage Kate, was a breath of fresh air. She managed to perfectly capture her character’s tones and nuances, amalgamating an image of a nerdy girl with an image of a girl with the beast inside.
Katherine Heigl, probably best known for Grey’s Anatomy, did an excellent job playing Tully in her 20s and 40s. Each of her two distinct performances emotionally portrayed Tully’s journey. Instead of giving Tully an overhaul, Heigl’s interpretation of the character very clearly built on Skovbye’s, which gave her an additional air of authenticity. Heigl conveyed Tully’s emotions very well and made it clear in her performance where those emotions came from.
Sarah Chalke, a star of Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother, was very good as Kate in her 20s and Kate in her 40s. Like Heigl, Chalke’s interpretation of Kate also built upon Curtis’ interpretation of teenage Kate, which came out as very relatable. The performance of Kate in her 20s felt a little sitcom-ish at times but was also very fun to watch. I loved how the actress managed the scene with the dress-swap at the beginning of the show. The same dress looked stunning on Tully, yet somehow only adequate on Kate. Chalke’s body language was phenomenal and sent a clear message of how exactly these two women are different.
Cinematography and Sound: Awesome Soundtrack
Different lenses, filters, framing and lights captured each decade or timeline. Vincent De Paula, Firefly Lane cinematographer, utilized warm colors for the 70s, conveying a homely atmosphere and hopefulness for the future. Screaming colors portrayed the 80s, capturing the energy, wildness and freedom of young adulthood. Finally, the 00s had neutral tones and featured more long shots, establishing the characters in the ‘now’ of their mature years and grown-up problems.
The carefully picked soundtrack fits the narrative like a glove. The compatibility of the songs accentuated the emotional tensions of the scenes and amalgamated with the cinematography. It featured hits such as Tainted Love by Soft Cell and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. The official soundtrack is available on Spotify.
Editing and Pacing: Confusing Timeline Editing
While I found the pacing to be quite dramatically effective, with a good balance of joy and drama, the car accident plotline suffered from the Arc Fatigue trope. Season 1 introduced this plotline and it carried through to season 2. The problem with this arc is its suspense-style writing. Without new details introduced frequently, the suspense can’t hold that long. For example, showing car keys close up a few times does not contribute any new information. Especially not since we already knew who the car keys belonged to.
The decades or timelines were also edited clumsily. Sometimes the decades are clearly indicated on the screen, but other times it’s left for guessing. And while cinematography accounts for that most of the time, some subplots take place in between the mayor timelines. Those subplots are usually not very well defined and it gets hard for the viewer to place them in the overall timeline.
Recommendation: Take a Peak
Overall, I definitely wouldn’t say this show is unrealistic with lots of overacting. In fact, it has many interesting points and strips bare how women get on in the world with a light-hearted tone that is easy to enjoy. Firefly Lane isn’t perfect, it suffers from a few tropes too much and a couple of plot holes. However, it’s great for those evenings when you need something smart and fun to relax with. Binge-worthy.