Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke boost soggy soap Firefly Lane: Review
Netflix classifies its new series Firefly Lane — in which Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke play lifelong friends — as a "premium soap." Neither term is quite right. "Premium" is not usually a word associated with cheesy dissolve cuts and distractingly bad wigs. And "soap" — well, any true soap opera is confident enough in its soapiness that it doesn't need to hide behind labels like "premium." Instead, think of Firefly Lane (premiering Wednesday) as an overlong PG-13 Hallmark movie boosted (a bit) by a pair of premium actresses.
Based on Kristin Hannah's 2008 novel, Firefly Lane follows Tallulah "Tully" Hart (Heigl) and Kate Mularkey (Chalke) over 30 years of friendship and falling outs. We first meet the girls as polar-opposite teens in the Seattle suburbs, when the cool and beautiful Tully (Ali Skovbye) moves on to the titular street right next to bookish and awkward Kate (Roan Curtis). Both are lost in their own ways. Tully's mom (Beau Garrett) is a spaced-out alcoholic hippie who calls herself "Cloud." Kate feels like a nobody at home and at school. Soon, the girls are inseparable.
And so they remain, through their first jobs as local news producers in the 1980s — where Kate meets her future ex-husband, Johnny (Ben Lawson) — and their present-day lives in 2003. Adult Tully is single and famous, host of a successful daytime talk show and connoisseur of one-night-stands, while Kate is a soon-to-be-divorced mother to a cranky teen named Marah (Yael Yurman). No matter the year, the pair's dynamic remains the same: Tully lives big, loud, and lonely — and Kate is her quiet and practical safety net. Together they navigate the traditional soap opera landmarks: Romance, heartbreak, date rape, betrayal both personal and professional.
Telling a TV story over decades is tricky (see: wigs!), and Firefly Lane is somewhat overzealous with its time-hopping structure. Episodes bounce continuously between the eras — there are 20 such bounces in the premiere alone — which sometimes presents a challenge in the "figuring out what is going on" department. The endless wipe-cuts in and out of time periods do provide ample opportunities to admire (and/or puzzle at) the carefully nostalgic wardrobe design, from young Kate's comically oversized eyeglasses to Tully's totally '80s hot-pink sweaters and Wella Balsam waves. In perhaps its neatest trick, Firefly Lane uses some kind of post-production witchcraft to de-age Heigl, Clarke, and Lawson for the '80s sequences. (If only poor Lawson didn't have to spend so much of his time in a flashback wig that looks like it was borrowed from a wax figure of Chris D'Elia.)
Heigl, last seen doing the sleek corporate lawyer thing on Suits, is well-cast as Tully; she captures the isolation and resignation beneath the practiced, public-facing confidence of a much-scrutinized celebrity. Chalke is saddled with a lot of domestic farce — Kate is the kind of can't-catch-a-break underdog who always winds up with a pair of panties stuck to the back of her blouse — but she instills the dramatic moments with an understated, affecting sadness. Firefly Lane would be entirely forgettable without Heigl and Chalke — which is both a compliment and a disappointment. Grade: C+
Firefly Lane premieres Wednesday on Netflix.