There's a lackluster glow on "Firefly Lane."Despite two well-known stars and a best-selling book that inspired it, Netflix's new female friendship
There’s a lackluster glow on “Firefly Lane.”
Despite two well-known stars and a best-selling book that inspired it, Netflix’s new female friendship drama series (now streaming, ★½ out of four) is a frustrating bore.
Based on the 2013 novel by Kristin Hannah, “Firefly” follows Tully (Katherine Heigl) and Kate (Sarah Chalke), two opposites-attract best friends who meet as teens in the 1970s and form an intensely close relationship into adulthood.
While there is an appetite for emotional melodramas about women, “Firefly,” created by Maggie Friedman (“Witches of East End”), is by no means the champion of the genre. It is confusing and often maddeningly boring; it lacks a cohesive identity other than as a vehicle for Heigl and Chalke to shout and cry. Its time-hopping device, clashing emotional tones and baffling plot twists add up to something far less than the sum of its parts.
“Firefly” jumps between eras, including the girls’ teen years in the ’70s (where they’re played by Ali Skovbye and Roan Curtis); their time as young TV journalists in the 1980s (where Heigl and Chalke are airbrushed and filtered to the point of looking plasticine); and as 43-year-olds in 2003. In that most recent timeline, Kate is struggling through a divorce and re-entry into the workforce after raising her daughter, and Tully is a full-blown celebrity talk-show host seemingly on par with Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. She is single, but battling her fear of commitment.
The details of Tully and Kate’s lives unfold in a random order and with the willful obscurity of a murder mystery. There are shocks in there: The series manages to shoehorn a host of tragedies into the story, including child neglect, sexual assault, sexual harassment, political insurrection, armed robbery, the AIDS epidemic and more in the decades-spanning plot. But every development, including the addition of a family dog, is given the thematic import of a monumental discovery.
Early on, a funeral takes place in 2005, a puzzling plot point that is wholly unsatisfying, even as some answers to that mystery are revealed throughout the 10-episode first season.
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Compounding the poor structure is its inconsistency in tone and emotion. At times “Firefly” is all-in heartwarming and comedic; at others, it pivots to heartbreaking and deadly serious, without finesse. Flashbacks are arranged in a bewildering order and don’t sync. At one point Kate’s husband Johnny (Ben Lawson) is seen training for a stint as a war correspondent in Iraq, and in the same episode there is a scene in which teenage Kate gets her first period while wearing white jeans. The versions of Kate and Tully that we see at different points in their lives don’t feel like evolutions of one character but rather three (or four, or five) different women.
If there is one good thing that can be said about “Firefly,” it is that Heigl is smartly cast, and a more streamlined show might have been able to do more with her character. Tully fits squarely in Heigl’s wheelhouse, a boisterous and driven woman who is always the leader, never the follower.
The costuming, production design and makeup choices are downright distracting, no matter what the time period. Kate and Tully don garish, Halloween-costume style outfits and makeup in the ’70s and ’80s, but the series sees no real difference, stylistically, between 2003 and and what a show set in the present would look like. Other than not-so-casual mentions of MySpace, “American Idol” and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it would be impossible to view that part of the series as a period piece.
“Firefly” bears an uncanny resemblance to the 1988 film “Beaches,” in which Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey play a pair of similarly co-dependent and turbulent childhood besties as they make their way through life. Although not universally beloved by critics, there is an emotional core to that film that makes sense, one that “Firefly” lacks.
If female friendship is all you seek, “Beaches” is available to rent or buy.