In Netflix’s new show Firefly Lane, we meet a pair of Seattleites, Tully (Katherine Heigl) and Kate (Sarah Chalke). We follow their unbreakable (read: codependent) bond from their teens to their early 40s. Together they form a familiar duo: Tully is the outgoing and bound-for-stardom leader, Kate the shy, sidelined friend. That setup might have you expecting—hoping for!—a female friendship drama with emotional depth and complex characters. But the 10-episode season, released February 3 and based on local writer Kristin Hannah’s 2008 bestselling novel, topples such expectations—and not in the way we want.
The talented cast can’t make up for the plot’s open questions, nor for the tangled timeline that makes it hard to know where the narrative will go. The brunt of the story puts us in 2003, when Tully is a successful TV journalist with her own talk show and Kate goes through a divorce while re-entering the journalism world after 14 years focused on raising her daughter. But then we jump to 1974, and to 1982, and even to 2005. That requires us to fill in the gaps between separate storylines, yet the best time indicators come from the exaggerated '70s and '80s wardrobes and hair, and an airbrushed quality that adds a youthful look. (For that matter, the only time we remember they’re in Seattle is when they explicitly talk about the city or we get a Space Needle establishing shot—yes, the show filmed in Vancouver, BC.)
The jumps are overwhelming and feel arbitrary. The sixth episode has the two teenagers celebrating Kate’s first period in a silly scene where they ditch school to ride their bikes as Kate yells “I am woman, hear me roar!” Then we cut to an intense 2003 scene where Johnny (Kate’s husband) practices shooting a gun in preparation to be a war correspondent in Iraq. By the time we figure out the sense in putting those two scenes together, the next major plot point has been introduced and our dislocation persists.
Sometimes the timeline works to contextualize the action, like when Tully overshadows Kate in their adult lives. Especially when it comes to romantic relationships, Tully’s ability to charm brings up a history of such betrayals and reinforces Kate’s position as the sidelined friend.
Despite problems with the structure of the story, it’s easy to become invested in the characters as they face real-life hardships. The things they go through—marriage and divorce, motherhood, tumultuous family relationships—and how they handle them resonate. But the characters are the only cohesive element of the show. A second season would have to pull a more sensical plot together to keep us watching.