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It might take a little bit of time for you to realize that the “present day” scenes in Firefly Lane take place in the past. The fashions don’t seem super passé, wine is being gargled down like it’s the 2010s (or 2021), and folks have cell phones and laptops and the like. However, if the chyrons don’t tip you off that the older Tully (Katherine Heigl) and Kate (Sarah Chalke) are living in 2003, then their retrograde complaints just might.
Early on in Firefly Lane, Tully suggests that the problem with her life is that she, a rich and famous TV show host, is a failure because she did not have a husband for family. Kate, the one who put her journalism dreams on hold to support her TV producer husband Johnny (Ben Lawson) and daughter Marah (Yael Yurman) is the “real success.” The whole conversation jarred me in 2021. It’s not only been so long since I’ve heard any woman make this kind of career vs. family value judgment, but it’s wrong within the context of the show.
The book, Firefly Lane, came out nearly 13 years ago, in 2008. It deals with the co-dependent friendship of two late Boomers who met as teens in the early ’70s. While the show flits back and forth between Tully and Kate’s teen years and twenties, the bulk of the show’s really monumental drama comes from the “present day” scenes, set in 2003. Kate is the friend grappling with an obvious life change: divorce. While Kate struggles to figure out who she is outside of her relationships with Johnny and Marah, Tully is waging a more insidious internal war. Is she happy with her charmed, but lonely life?
First of all, I need to point out that both Kate and Tully seem to be doing very well financially. Kate lives in a massive house with an in-ground pool and lake access. Her decision to get back into the workforce is presented less as a need for money than a need for self-actualization. Tully lives in a gorgeous penthouse apartment and hangs out with George Clooney. While her job hosting a daytime talk show isn’t as challenging as she would like, she is working her dream job. However, she, too, is growing introspective in her early forties.
Tully’s deep ennui — which manifests itself in drinking, one night stands, and staring at the Seattle skyline — has her envying what Kate has that she doesn’t. Namely, Kate’s (failed?) marriage and experience as a mother.
Tully not only falls into the troubling trap of assuming she could have had one or the other, but also that one choice is inherently better than the other. It’s a really retrograde reaction to a deeper problem plaguing Tully.
Throughout Firefly Lane, Tully is haunted by the pain of her past. As a child she felt abandoned by her mother. As a teen, she found her own easy popularity and natural beauty turned into a weapon against her through the act of sexual assault. Tully’s ambition is rooted in a deep desire to prove she is better than her trauma. The problem is even if she’s achieved her every dream, that trauma is still hunting her.
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It might be easier for Tully to look for what is missing than it is for her deal with the pain she already has. But Tully only starts to make any progress when she reaches out to her mother and puts her heart on the line.It’s growth.
When Firefly Lane shows Tully coveting Kate’s domestic lifestyle, it doesn’t just feel dated; it feels false. The troubles plaguing the show’s ambitious heroine aren’t the result of a work versus family dichotomy, but Tully’s own reluctance to confront the pain she survived. Instead she lies about her mother, hedges away from emotional conversations, and deflects all calls to be vulnerable.
Maybe Tully does want a baby and a husband, but it’s clear to anyone watching Firefly Lane she wants to be unconditionally loved more.
Watch Firefly Lane on Netflix
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