TALES OF THE CITY. Created by Lauren Morelli. With Laura Linney, Ellen Page, Paul Gross, Murray Bartlett and more. Netflix.
MEGAN FURNISS reviews
It’s a miracle I made it to the end of the 10 episodes of Season 1 of the utterly rubbish Tales of the City. Now I just look back on it as totally wasted time. And what took the most energy while watching it (aside from forcing myself to stay awake by biting my own knuckles to stop the yawning and/or screaming) was trying to forget how much I loved the books.
I loved the books. Armistead Maupin wrote characters and emotions and secrets and places that made me feel like I was there. That I could have fitted into. It was a soap opera serial of books that I was addicted to. That time and place captured my heart, and the books and their stories of queer people, in every sense, turned hope and belief real. The future was predicted, with all its passions and pains, on the pages of those books. If you remember how much you loved the books you will hate this series more.
Set in the present, not past
For starters the series is not a nostalgic look back at the time and place of the original Tales of the City – San Francisco in the 80’s and 90’s. It is now two decades later and a middle-aged Mary Ann (Laura Linney) returns to Barbary Lane for Anna Madrigal’s (Olympia Dukakis) 90th birthday celebrations. Bad idea. The original characters and their problems, loves, fears, sexuality, ambitions, and views of the world are benign, boring and completely toothless. Mouse (Murray Bartlett), the HIV+ young homosexual best friend in the original is now a completely-in-control, Muscle Mary, boring wimp, starting a relationship with a younger man. Anna Madrigal’s big secret is so no longer a big secret (having had gender reassignment surgery) they had to invent a new, totally implausible, plot heavy, convoluted dirty secret, and then make a new young person a bunny boiling villain.
Poor Zosia Mamet, a fantastic actress, had the hideous job of playing the badly justified psycho. Laura Linney comes off the worst here. Her middle-aged Mary Ann is a fey, irritating, smiling, bumbling, neurotic pain in the ass, who is quite frankly unwatchable. Surely this character would have learned something in 20 years. Agonising. These characters from the books do not make the transition into the time, or onto screen because they have nothing real to fight about, or for. They are a dreary lot and do not deserve the screen time.
Narcissistic, shallow stereotypes
And then there are the fresh, young queers or spectrum of sex/gender fluid examples of today. And they are morose, self-obsessed, narcissistic, shallow stereotypes and I didn’t care about them or their self-imposed problems for 10 seconds. The sulky and miserable Shawna (Ellen Page) makes a total, endless meal of her family drama and her parentage, the trashy ‘influencer’ twins and their social media campaign is hell of the most shallow order, and even the bit parts are trite, twee and underthought-through drag/dyke/camp cartoons.
It’s like watching an advert for a pride march instead of the actual pride march. It’s like the soft porn version of a dated Priscilla Queen of the Desert or a tepidly gay version of the new Melrose Place (I think this was a thing). I longed for the magic, freshness and heartfelt emotion of the books, but got the karaoke version instead.
What: Tales of the City on Netflix