“Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” is a 2019 Netflix series based on a series of novels about the queer community in San Fransisco. I quite enjoyed it but before I get to the core of my review, let me give you some background about this TV show.
Both the novels and the TV adaptations are very important for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, the previous TV version of the story was groundbreaking for being the first series ever positively depicting non-heterosexual love. In that manner it started the slow process of normalising the presence of queer characters on TV.
While watching the series you may get the impression that you don’t know everything about the story and it’s true. This series is a continuation of the previous one. I’ve certainly noticed some winking to the audience that I can’t possibly get. Still, the series is easy to follow even for people who don’t have that much understanding of what’s happened to the characters before you meet them. If you’re a glutton for knowledge, you can read this article before you start watching to learn more about the background story.
This revival of “Tales of the City” is set mostly on Barbary Lane, a house owned by a transgender woman, Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukasis). The lovely elderly lady with a secret about to be exposed, shares her house with other members of community. That’s where we meet Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney), a former tenant, who wants to make up with her daughter, Shawna (Ellen Page) she abandoned many years earlier. Her ex-husband, Brian (Paul Gross), isn’t happy to see her but her friend Michael (Murray Bartlett you may know from “Looking“) is thrilled. The relationship of the latter with much younger Ben (Charlie Barnett, who also starred in “The Russian Doll“) is one of the focal points of the story. So are the problems in a relationship between a transgender man Jake (Garcia) and his girlfriend, Margot (May Hong).
Let me start with what I liked. Similarly like in the case of “Looking”, which focuses on a bunch of gay friends from San Fransisco, a series like this is interesting to me because it exposes me to a world I don’t know much about but I’d like to understand better. It is important to normalise TV and have series about all representatives of our society. I could definitely relate to Anna’s past and present choices, Shawna who struggles to forgive her mother but yearns for her as well or the the relationship between Ben and Michael. I’ve enjoyed the music and the general vibe of the series too.
Having said that, I didn’t buy all the characters. I strongly disliked self-obsessed Mary Ann and was annoyed with her throughout the show. I also didn’t think that the choice of the actor who plays Jake did justice to the role he played.
There was one episode in particular, where the young generation of gays was opposed to the old generation and the same was done for feminists, that felt quite artificial as if the characters were saying exactly the right/wrong things. In general, however, the series’ take on presenting issues of the LGBTQ+ community is compelling and allows people to relate to the characters as well as to their problems regardless of whether you are or you aren’t a member of the community.
All in all, I’d say it’s a 7,5 series and IMDB at this time seem to agree with me. It’s an interesting, uplifting series with an important social role that feels just a tad too much like an Xmas family movie to completely win me over.