Netflix’s Firefly Lane turns Kristin Hannah’s novel of the same name into a story of dark, brooding teen angst and adult disasters. Each episode progressively shows the worst of two family’s lives, centering its tale of woe on best friends Kate and Tully. Here’s your spoiler alert. Read on only if you do not mind a few key plot elements revealed.
The storyline jumps decades as we move from the 1970s to the early 2000s, and in between. Tully’s mother, Cloud, played by American actress Beau Garrett, provides the flaky, hippie character. Always high, Cloud can barely take care of herself, much less her child.
Tully, played by as a young woman by Ali Skovbye, spent most of her childhood raised by grandma, a much safer environment since when she’s left alone with Cloud, she either gets left alone in a crowd of thousands at a protest rally, or she sneaks out to a party thinking it’s normal to have no curfew, no rules, and no guidance.
By contrast, the parents of young Kate, played by Canadian actress Roan Curtis, prove the bastions of dependability, more so in the book than the show. Kate’s mom, Margie, (Chelah Horsdal), manages strict, helicopter mom-ness in the book, but has an affair in the TV version. Kate’s dad, Bud, (Paul McGillion), blends into the background, rarely getting lines in the first episodes. If you are the same age as Kate and Tully would be in 2021 or a decade younger, you’ll see this as a metaphor for men of that era — dependable providers who didn’t say much.
The female friendship between Kate and Tully provides the central theme of the novel and the show. As young Kate, Curtis offers unexpected support and encouragement, a harbinger of her later marriage and motherhood role. Her adult scenes played by Sarah Chalke best known for her role, Becky, on the show, “Roseanne,” which for more than two decades and 72 episodes showcased her acting talents.
Adult Tully receives her fluidity and flakiness from former “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Roswell” actress Katherine Heigl. We see Tully raped in near-real-time in one of the first two episodes. If that sounds dark, it is. That represents the tone of the entire show. There are no happy moments.
We never see a friendship between Kate and her mom. That transmutes to Kate’s friendship, or lack thereof, with her teenage daughter, who goes to the cooler Tully for a signature on a form for birth control pills. Kate’s daughter just wants them as a status symbol since everyone in eighth grade is getting them, but any adult watching this is probably left wondering how these teens couldn’t manage to even converse with their parents.
If you have a lifelong friendship with anyone, those beautiful moments that forged it never appear in this show. It features a number of flashback scenes that show none of the moments of normal teenaged development of a female or a male. Kate has a brother, Sean, (Quinn Lord) who provides the teen romantic drama moments since he and his best friend, Robbie (Synto D. Misati), secretly carry on a gay relationship.
Tully knows the truth about both of them since she catches them kissing goodnight while heading to a party. She keeps this secret into adulthood since, of course, he never comes out to anyone. Instead, adult Sean (Jason McKinnon) serves in the military and holds uncomfortable conversations with his sister, who despite being a genius, perceptive person, and Tully’s confidante, never figures it out. He does not come out to her.
As adults Tully makes it as a journalist, sort of. She gives up her hopes of doing serious news as a news anchor for a talk show, called The Girlfriend Hour, which essentially combines the worst of Jerry Springer and The National Inquirer. At one point, she lands an interview with a woman who murdered her husband and then fed his remains to their cat.
As teens, the boys all go after Tully. She’s hot, well-dressed, and promiscuous. We see that if she did not put herself in horrible situations, bad things would not happen to her. Part of that is the horrible parenting, but unfathomably, no person ever suggests teen her or child get mental health treatment.
At least this occurs for Kate’s kid, Marah (Yael Yurman). When her parents divorced, and she acts out at school, ditching classes and letting her grades slide, the school’s guidance counselor graciously recommends counseling and provides Kate with the name and number of a therapist.
The Netflix adaptation of the novel changes a few details to make the characters a little more exciting or provocative but missing from both are the actualities of life such as overprotective mothers, sleepovers, mall shopping, and normal dates. The show forces its characters’ willed helplessness which blows the show’s suspension of disbelief. They mess up their lives because they’re written that way. Both Tully and Kate have fabulous homes and plenty of money, so one wonders why neither has entered therapy. Instead, they both develop alcohol problems with Tully also turning to cocaine.
In reality, Kate’s brother came of age in one of the first decades it was acceptable to be gay openly. Rather than hide it, even those from small towns came out in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 2000s, not only do their parents know, they accept it, and welcome their spouse.
The two women both enter journalism with the idea that Tully will work on screen and Kate will work behind the scenes as Tully’s producer. This fulfills Kate’s role as caretaker and sets up the adult Kate and Tully for more drama. They compete for the affections of producer/director Johnny Ryan (Ben Lawson).
The Aussie actor plays an Aussie newscaster who once worked as a war correspondent. In this one battle, Kate wins. Johnny becomes Kate’s husband. Bizarrely, this means that though she’s one of the most talented people in their 1980s newsroom, she quits to make baby Marah and rear her. Johnny randomly chooses to return to life as a war correspondent as Marah turns 14.
This drama will floor anyone the ages of the title characters for bearing no resemblance to real-life at all. Despite her newsroom background and fabulous husband, Kate shops at Frock Farm. She lives in a mansion on the waterfront, but she does her own laundry and still wears massive glasses.
Gone are her cute hairdo from the 1980s and essential makeup. She can no longer schedule herself, much less her family, and ends up more than an hour late for her first job interview post-marital breakup.
Kristin Hannah’s book gets picked through. It may have happy moments, but you won’t find them in Firefly Lane. You will find darkness and suicidal thoughts.
No person gets help in this series and anyone adult watching this will wonder where series like “Thirtysomething” went. The yuppie set of the 1980s got a dose of real life, and it made us want to grow up and get out there. You won’t get that with this drama, but you will get amazing acting from the women at its core — Chalke, Curtis, Heigl, Skovbye, and the underused Garrett.