It’s a move Team Netflix has been adopting frequently as of late: straying from their signature binge for a slower-to-digest split-season model. Spanish crime thriller Money Heist, 1980s monster mash Stranger Things, soapy serial-killer drama You ... all of them have had recent seasons cleaved in half, each cut rolled out with a few months in between to optimize attention, prolong anticipation, and maximize awards calendars.
The bifurcated streaming strategy is usually a good fit for high-concept titles, ones trading in suspense, where mysteries, murders, and mayhem can be introduced and cliffhanger-ed over the course of multiple premieres and finales. So it seemed a curious creative decision, then, to utilize the split model for the second and final season of the comparatively low-stakes dramedy Firefly Lane, a Beaches-light heart-warmer that chronicles the lives of two best friends over the course of three decades. It’s the kind of easy watch best enjoyed while wrapped up in the comfort of a pashmina and some pinot grigio. (The Netflix show was adapted by Maggie Friedman from Kirstin Hannah’s Firefly Lane book series, a favorite of mom book clubs everywhere.)
But Firefly Lane season two—the first part, totaling nine episodes, dropped in December; its seven-episode followup was bumped up from a summer release to April 27—conjured up some suspense of its own in that mid-season finale last winter: After a near-lifetime of codependency, Tallulah “Tully” Hart (Katherine Heigl, also an executive producer) and Kate Mularkey (Sarah Chalke) were left reeling from a brutal friendship breakup, which launched the former to grieve her “crushing loneliness” at the opposite end of the world (literally, Antarctica) and the latter to reckon with a Stage 3 breast-cancer diagnosis without her closest confidant.
“Home hasn’t really felt the same since I lost my best friend,” Tully laments to a coworker, who reasonably takes that to mean tragedy. Kate is, in fact, alive, but a death certainly has occurred. “We just stopped speaking … she’s actually probably great without me fucking her life up,” Tully adds. But Kate is not doing great. She spends their year of estrangement “fried from chemo,” throwing up in her purse while dress-shopping with her daughter Marah (Yael Yurman), “stranded in a sex desert” with her husband Johnny (Ben Lawson), and not able to even whip up a ham sandwich without the smothering supervision of her well-meaning family.
Thankfully, the season’s back half doesn’t drag out Kate and Tully’s inevitable reunion. It also, smartly, doesn’t fast-track the friends’ path to forgiveness, even with the pallor of death swiftly casting a shadow on their abnormally sunny Pacific Northwest world. Their much-anticipated reconciliation isn’t a tidy or linear one—their well-honed rhythms are off, old resentments and insecurities creep up, and hard truths must be acknowledged before they can face off against The Big C. It’s in navigating the wreck, in confronting their fury and fear, that Heigl and Chalke (the latter, especially, who is finally given something to chew on after two seasons of fluff) do their best work of the series, gamely tapping into the too-muchness of that brand of all-consuming, all-encompassing female friendship.
That’s not to say that Firefly Lane has completely forsaken its at times eye-roll-inducing blend of over-the-top silliness and overt schmaltz in this back half. The soundtrack is so sentimental this time around it might as well be sponsored by Kleenex (piano renditions of “Time After Time,” the obligatory “Landslide” needle drop, not one but two versions of “Both Sides Now”), and there are enough goofy lesbian kisses and lost-testicle jokes to fill a sitcom half hour. Subtlety has never been the game here—Kate’s hair falls out in almost comically huge clumps to the sounds of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune.” And there’s an entire boob-themed episode entitled “The Breast Is Yet To Come,” flitting between teen Kate (played by Roan Curtis, with Ali Skovbye portraying the younger Tully) stuffing her bra to impress a popular boy at school, new-mom Kate trying to get infant Marah to latch, and present-day Kate coming to terms with her impending mastectomy.
But the split-season format, coupled with the constraints of this officially being the show’s final stretch, has given these last seven episodes a much-welcome narrative tightening that was sorely missing from the season’s overloaded first half, helping to curb some of the series’ more superfluous schlock.
Instead, the back half leans into what has always been the most redeeming quality of Firefly Lane. No, not the wigs. Never the wigs. Rather, the “for better or worse” friendship between Tully and Kate, as endearing as it is enduring. Kate’s cancer diagnosis spreads to all aspects of her life, from her relationship with Johnny to her professional ambitions, but it’s how it absolutely levels Tully, cracking open the closed-off character and forcing her to contend with her worst nightmare, that finally gives the show the emotional wallop it’s been promising since episode one.
For all of the series’ time-jumping absurdity and soft-focused sappiness, Heigl and Chalke—and, by extension, Skovbye and Curtis as their youthful counterparts—sell the hell out of the friends’ sheer devotion to one another, making their final run as “Firefly Lane Girls Forever” not only genuinely affecting but actually earned.
Firefly Lane season 2 part 2 premieres April 27 on Netflix.