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Familiar Roads are Taken in 'Firefly Lane,' but the Actors Make it Worth the Trip
February 3, 2021  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

"Strange how people who have suffered together have stronger connections than those who are most content," Bob Dylan once sang, and among the many people to whom that could apply are Tully Hart and Kate Mularkey.

Tully and Kate are the long-term BFFs at the heart of Firefly Lane, a Kristin Hannah novel adapted into a 10-part TV series that launches Wednesday on Netflix.

The best part of the adaptation is the casting.

Katherine Heigl (top) plays Tully, a glamorous, self-focused, ambitious woman who has become a broadcasting star.

Sarah Chalke (top) plays Kate, a self-doubting woman who never stopped seeing herself as a geeky teenager and decided to go the marriage/family route instead of pushing for an outside career.

Together, Heigl and Chalke accomplish the tricky feat of making us believe these opposites really did become best friends. They have that easy unspoken bond that allows them to take separate paths and come back together.

They met at the age of 14 when Tully and her drug-addled hippie mother moved in across the street from Kate. The proximity of their homes puts them together at places like the school bus stop, and they strike up a casual friendship even though Tully is a guy magnet who is up for any adventure and Kate mostly goes straight home, does her schoolwork, and hangs out with her horse.

As time passes, Tully finds Kate a respite from the high decibels of her life, while Kate can't believe someone as popular as Tully would find anything about her interesting.

They stay in touch through school and into their careers, where Tully starts at the bottom of the TV news game, and Kate sort of tags along.

Kate breaks off to get married while Tully climbs the ladder. They live in different places, then move back closer to one another. Kate still envies Tully's ability to shine wherever she goes; Tully sometimes wonders if there's something hollow in that success.

While the series is packed with flashbacks, much of the first episode takes place in 2003, 30 years after they met, as they are entering their early 40s.

Both are slamming into the various crises that can happen to married women and career women at that juncture, and if all of this is beginning to sound maybe a little too familiar, that's the downside of Firefly Lane.

Tully and Kate, as adapted by Maggie Friedman from Hannah's novel, have distinctive personality traits. They just don't have enough to set them apart from, frankly, too many previous stories about female bonding and midlife crises.

Spread over ten episodes, Firefly Lane naturally creates new dramas for the two women even as we see the consequences – a few troubling but mostly good – from their past dramas.

We kind of suspect that situations X, Y, and Z are going to pop up and either test or strengthen their friendship. And so they do.

It's not that the story is badly told, and it's certainly well-acted. Neither Tully nor Kate is an entirely likeable character, and that part is fine. In fact, it's good. The rolling drama too often just doesn't make us eager to find out what will happen next.

Since TV doesn't have enough relationship dramas these days, Firefly Lane fills a void and is not without its pleasures. You just wish it felt a little fresher.

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Paul Lampe
When you're quoting lyrics from "Knocked Out Loaded," you've gone for the deep Dylan cuts. Impressive.
Feb 10, 2021   |  Reply
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