I watched all of “Firefly Lane,” the new 10-episode Netflix series that manages to be a mixture of “Beaches” and “This Is Us.” It’s like “Beaches” because it’s the often schmaltzy, soapy story of the lifelong friendship between two women, Tully and Kate. And it’s like “This Is Us” because it jumps back and forth in their lives frequently — hyperactively, at times — and each time frame has its own plots.
My sense is that the show, created by Maggie Friedman based on the 2008 novel by Kristin Hannah, is not aiming to be a critically acclaimed drama so much as an addictive story geared toward so-called chick-lit lovers. But even by that standard, “Firefly Lane” misses the mark. It’s the kind of production that takes us from the early 1970s, when the girls first become friends, to the show’s present tense in the early aughts by shoving the cliched clothing and hairstyles of the times in our faces. It’s also the kind of show that cycles through traumas — date rape, romantic heartbreak, medical crises, domestic abuse, drug abuse — to the point where they all start losing their meaning.
Oh, and it’s the kind of show that leaves its Big Mystery — the betrayal that undermines their friendship — unresolved at the end of the season, making you want to take back the 10 or so hours you spent watching it in the first place. Not a good look, “Firefly Lane,” to promise an answer and serve up a cliffhanger.
Katherine Heigl stars as the adult Tully, a beloved and wealthy daytime talk-show host who’s personal life is empty. All she has is her tight bond with Sarah Chalke’s more introverted Kate, a former journalist trying to get back to work after focusing on motherhood. There is a man who has relationships with both of them, Ben Lawson’s Johnny Ryan, and he triggers some extremely predictable romantic jealousy along the way. In the past, Tully was treated poorly by her hippie mother, and she found refuge in Kate’s more nurturing home across the street — a dynamic that we see develop in flashbacks. We also see that, as adults, Kate still takes care of Tully, sometimes to her own detriment.
The surprise for me was Heigl, who is just right for the role of a damaged star who’s always just about to go off the rails. Chalke, from “Scrubs,” is fine, although a bit miscast as the shyer, less glamorous one. The two actresses, along with the two who play them as teens, are as good as they can be, given the flatness and redundancies of the script. They gamely play out all the crying, and yelling, and cuddling, as the story unfolds busily, randomly, and, ultimately, unsatisfyingly.