It's kind of nice that amid the utter mayhem that is the real world, Netflix has gifted viewers with Firefly Lane, a soapy, breezy friendship drama that exists entirely outside of it. But it does present an interesting question: How much is too much escapism?
As seen by the polarizing responses to Bridgerton, an equally digestible contribution from the streamer that all but demands you shut off your inquisitive minds, audiences still crave some sense that what they're watching lies within a landscape with which they're familiar. Firefly Lane isn't completely removed from that discussion, though it's a far more cursory experience than the popular British entry. Inspired by Kristin Hannah's novel of the same name, showrunner-creator Maggie Friedman's series follows Kate and Tully (small screen veterans Sarah Chalke and Katherine Heigl) throughout their 30-year friendship and the personal and professional struggles they experience along that journey.
There are no real Easter egg reveals like on This is Us or alarming circumstances on which shows like Dead to Me rely. Rather, Firefly Lane succeeds on its basic, relatable premise and obvious appeal to female audiences. Like many relationships, Kate and Tully have opposing personalities -- the former is mousy and family-oriented while the latter is career-minded with a devil-may-care attitude -- and are united initially by the fact that they practically shared the same address growing up. Through flashbacks, we learn that Tully, short for Tallulah, was raised in part by her grandmother as well as her mother, Cloud (Beau Garrett), whose drug addiction put a strain on her relationship, to say the least.
It makes Tully almost dependent on Kate by a young age as she struggles to escape her erratic household. Kate just happens to fit perfectly inside a co-dependent relationship with Tully because she, a bespectacled good girl who is constant prey for the bullies at her school, also seeks someone who understands what it's like to be an outsider.
Though young Tully's (Ali Skovbye) home life is a constant state of chaos, young Kate's (Roan Curtis) family doesn't lack challenges of their own, though they deal with them in a more traditional way: inwardly. Without giving too much away, that repression continues to implode throughout each timeline in the series -- the 70s, 80s, and 90s aka when Kate belts out Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" in a karaoke bar -- which are stacked on each other in each episode.
But to say that the ever-shifting timeline representation needs work would be an understatement. Though these are starkly different decades in every way, there is not much evidence of that in Firefly Lane, particularly in the latter two timeliness. Granted, the adult actresses embody both stages of their characters, but there is barely a makeup or hair evolution to identify what era of their lives we're watching at times. For example, Tully has shorter hair or Kate sometimes doesn't wear her glasses later in their lives. It can be confusing, especially since the settings never seem to change (they live in the same homogenous, suburban town, which seems frozen in the year 1988). It mostly comes down to a haircut or the choice to wear contact lens or not. And it doesn't help that the soundtrack has a sometimes-anachronistic playlist that includes Patsy Cline's "Crazy."
But Firefly Lane presumes we're not going to focus on these nitty gritty details, and admittedly, it's easy to dismiss them. This is a show about friendship, womanhood and, how our youth informs our adult lives and personalities. Throughout their lives, Kate and Tully experience alcoholism, love, motherhood, divorce, heartbreak, journalism careers … [takes massive breath] … betrayal, empowerment, rape, and the patriarchy. That is enough to keep us engaged without waiting for clues from the storyline context to determine which year it is. The apparent moral here: drama has no time period.
It certainly follows these women wherever they go. But it's recognizable storylines that compel us to want to root for them, even when they do each other dirty. We don't just want this friendship to withstand its 30 years. We want it to be -- at the risk of sounding appropriately saccharine -- eternal, despite its gloomy cliffhanger ending that begs a second season.
But the pesky questions are still there as we begin to wonder throughout this season if sexual trauma will ever be fully addressed, or even the subject of healing as more and more women begin to confront that in recent years. Or will Friedman and her team delve more deeply into Tully's relationship with her mother or Kate's self-esteem issues? Most of the meatier subjects in Firefly Lane are glossed over as we consume them within a vacuum of other events going on throughout the always-morphing plot. It sucks some of the satisfaction out of the viewing experience.
Still, Firefly Lane is an easy watch that, perhaps, intentionally avoids topical subjects that could be triggering. As a result, 10 impossibly fast, nearly one-hour episodes fly by without them saying anything profound, even in relation to the political eras they occupy, but manage to keep us invested in the lives of two small-town women who are just trying to get by like the rest of us. What does that say about where we're at in the era of Watching So Much Prestige TV Because There's Nothing Else to Do? Probably that we're exhausted. So, maybe we could use the break.
TV Guide Rating: 2.5/5
Firefly Lane premieres Wednesday on Netflix