While the new series was produced in the vein of This Is Us, which takes us from the past to the present and even future, Netflix's Firefly Lane is actually a period piece. Its "present day" is the mid-2000s. But it doesn't exactly scream 2000s until the early aughts details reveal themselves ever so slowly. So if you found yourself watching, wondering why the fashion was a little off, and then being utterly shocked when Katherine Heigl's Tully begins giving a way a bedazzled Razr-style flip phone that can even take pictures to her studio audience, you're not alone. And you may wonder why in the world this series so committed to 2003.
Well, the answer is, quite plainly, math. Firefly Lane is based on the 2008 book of the same name, which follows the friendship between Kate (Sarah Chalke) and Tully after they meet as teenagers in 1974. That date doesn't change in the Netflix adaptation, so what appears to be a present day storyline about their lives as adults just has to take place in 2003 for any of it to make sense. If it was any closer to 2021, Kate and Tully would be in their 60s (like Mandy Moore's character is in the present day on This Is Us), and the storyline about their adult lives is very clearly a tale of middle age, aka mid-40s, woe.
The series follows the timeline of the book, tracking the friendship through multiple decades, so the importance of these time periods goes beyond getting to show off vintage fashion and technology. Firefly Lane starts in what appears to be the '60s — the series doesn't tell us out outright — with a young Tully attending an anti-Vietnam war protest with her mum, Cloud (Beau Garrett). From there, it jumps ahead to 1974, when 14-year-old Tully (Ali Skovbye) moves across the street from Kate (Roan Curtis), and their lifelong friendship begins. The series also switches between seeing Kate and Tully (Chalke and Heigl in every scene that takes place after high school) in college in the late '70s, as young first-time journalists at a local news station in the '80s, and as 43-year-olds in 2003 and 2005.
There is a certain kind of appeal in jumping through the '70s, '80s, and 2000s, all of which need to be differentiated by visual cues if the timeline shifts are to make any sense to viewers. In the '70s, we get flower-painted VW vans and high waisted flares paired with bold, chunky, large-rimmed glasses. In the '80s, we're served up Walkmans, neon colours in everyday settings, and voluminous 'dos complete with bangs and oversized jewellery. Anyone who's watched This Is Us is used to these cues, but it's the references to 2003 that are somehow the most jarring. It's not only presented as now, but it feels like it could be. Then all of a sudden there's a reference to the 2003 George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones movie Intolerable Cruelty or someone makes a call on a Blackberry, and we're forced to reckon with the fact that 2003 wasn't five or even 10 years ago. It's been almost 20 years since then.
In retrospect, the 2003 timeline was staring us in the face the whole time. Supposedly fashionable characters can be seen in skater skirts, silk tank tops, and zebra-patterned jackets. They're typing on colourful iBook laptops, talking on landlines, and carrying miniature dogs in purses. An acceptable date was inviting someone over to watch the new American Idol episode, which had only just premiered in 2002 and was still appointment viewing. The music is also a clear indicator — despite some of the 2003 hits still being present on many a wedding playlist to this very day. While the '70s scenes get hits like "No Matter What" by Badfinger and the '80s are signified by "Tainted Love" and "We Got the Beat," the 2003 timeline includes music like OutKast's "Hey Ya!" — a song which actually came out that year.
Basically, Firefly Lane is forcing those of us who've tuned in for the Katherine Heigl of Grey's Anatomy nostalgia (it premiered in 2005, in case you forgot) to reconcile the fact that the 2000s are just as vintage as the other decades in the series. It's not not a gut punch for millennial viewers who hadn't quite processed just how long it's been since the early noughties. But hey, remember Blackberrys?