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Review – Tales of the City

With tv-shows progressing into more inclusive territory (which we applaud, duh), there’s still a bit of work to do. Over a decade ago, we had gay shows such as Queer as Folk and The L Word, which focused on the gay community. It seems like we haven’t really gotten a show that is able to tell more nuanced gay stories balanced with its straight counterpart. Tales of the City is here to change that.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, picks up 20 years after its last mini-series and knows how to keep you intrigued. The previous instalments caused a lot of controversy when it aired on television back then, Netflix doesn’t seem to shy away from it and knows how to handle its progressiveness. 

The 10-episode counting limited series begins with our optimistic female lead Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) returning to 28 Barbary Lane, after living in Connecticut for the past 20 years. Now hosting infomercials for a ripoff snuggie, she’s clearly given up on her dreams of becoming a world renowned journalist. She’s returning to celebrate her mysterious former landlady, Anna Madrigal’s (Olympia Dukakis) 90th birthday. Once there some old and new faces welcome her, but not everyone is as happy to see her. 

Ellen Page and Paul Gross

Two of those unhappy individuals are ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross) and estranged daughter Shawna (Ellen Page), whom she left a long time ago, to pursue her career. Shawna acting all tough when first meeting her long lost mother, later shares a joint with her on top of the roof and sarcastically laughs at Mary Ann when confronting her with the fact she left her daughter behind. But is that really what happened?

The main emotional driving point this season, is that question and the fact no one who raised Shawna, ever told her the truth. Aside from that compelling storyline, these main characters still have their own stories to tell. But the real shocker is one that involves Anna’s sudden decision to sell Barbary Lane, after receiving cryptic letters and strange individuals coming over for a visit. It’s up to Shawna and Mary Ann to solve the mystery and fight for their home and mutual love – Barbary Lane.

Besides the compelling main characters, we also meet some interesting friends that join the fun. Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett) and his younger boyfriend Ben (Charlie Barnett) deal with Michael’s positive status, the challenges of their age difference and seemingly threatening ex-partners; Margot (May Hong) and Jake (Garcia) have trouble adjusting to Jake’s newfound desires after transitioning; and over the top millennial jokes that involve too much Instagram from the twins (played by Christopher Larkin and Ashley Park) that live on Barbary Lane.

Murray Bartlett and Laura Linney

Creator Lauren Morelli (Orange is the New Black) and executive producer Alan Poul (Six Feet Under) found a way to honour the spirit of the original series and start this revival/sequel so that new audiences can still follow what exactly goes on. Having never seen a single episode of the original mini-series, I had no trouble understanding the story. It’s not easy to show something that connects with everyone in some way, without excluding genders and/or sexualities, but they were also able to do it in a way that educates without coming across preachy. 

Her team of all queer writers and directors should be applauded for their outstanding work. Not only does it show how much thought they’ve put into this, the range of perspectives splashes from the screen. There’s different episodes that are recognisable and will make you think. It’s all about showing your true colours and not shying away from who you really are. Times have changed and Tales of the City has evolved for a new era of fans.

Tales of the City shows us just how important it is to live one’s truth, choosing our own family and how we connect with one another, while celebrating queer culture and exploring multiple generations of LGBTQ+ people.

Olympia Dukakis and Caldwell Tidicue

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is now available for streaming on Netflix Australia.

Review by Seth Eelen

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