When it concerns “Tales of the City,” the nostalgia just keeps intensifying. The original television mini-series was currently a wistful evocation of a disappearing San Francisco. And even as it played on PBS in early 1994, the web was slumping over into presence down the peninsula. With Netflix providing a brand-new, 10- episode installation– a contemporary follow up, and the fourth series based on Armistead Maupin’s books– both the very first series, and the late-bohemian 1970 s San Francisco it depicted, appear lost in the fog of time.
Yet there’s Laura Linney, fresh and amusing as ever, once again reprising the role of Mary Ann, the Midwestern ingénue who’s forever getting here in the city by the bay and having her life altered. And Olympia Dukakis, still formidable as Anna Madrigal, whose 90 th birthday is the gadget that brings Mary Ann back to Anna’s enclave in the fictional hilltop wonderland of Barbary Lane.
Their existence, however, as comforting as it is, doesn’t quite justify the effort used up on the brand-new series or the nine-plus hours it will take you to see it. The genuine nostalgia that this slack, earnest, self-help system of a show evokes is for a time when a TELEVISION drama’s main task was to narrate.
Developed by Lauren Morelli, whose previous TELEVISION writing and producing experience was on “Orange Is the New Black,” this “Tales of the City” has the requisite web of plots, or a minimum of character complications. Mary Ann’s surprise visit to San Francisco is naturally extended and she has a hard time to come to terms with the ex-husband, Brian (Paul Gross, once again), and the child, Shawna (Ellen Page), whom she left.
Her old buddy Mouse, now played by Murray Bartlett of “Looking,” still lives at Barbary Lane and still has relationship problems. Anna is once again involved in a mystery, which gets Mary Ann and the others out of the house for some amateur sleuthing and even a comic ride-sharing car chase.
However there’s no energy or conviction in the storytelling, and while Linney, Gross, Bartlett and Page occasionally strike some sparks when they’re onscreen together, scene after scene goes by devoid of any genuine dramatic or psychological benefit.
Or maybe there are absolutely nothing but emotional rewards, depending upon your expectations. “Tales of the City” was obviously famously guiding in its representations of gay and transgender life and love in 1994; the present series expands its representation, with brand-new Barbary Lane homeowners who include a young transgender guy, Jake (played by a transgender and nonbinary actor, Garcia), and his sweetheart, Margot (May Hong), who are both questioning their sexuality. (And behind the camera, the program’s authors and directors are mostly L.G.B.T.Q.) Jake, in specific, plays out scenarios with household and fans that are brand-new to mainstream TELEVISION.
However the story lines including the younger characters consistently default to flat, safe conversations about gender and queerness– the program can start to seem like an extended TED Talk, or a long night at a boring however extremely affirmative gathering of pals. For an event of varied identities and lifestyles, with a healthy amount of nudity and some graphic depictions of sex, it’s resolutely square.
This effect rules even though the writers damage the characters’ pieties once in a while. One of the few really distinct and vibrant scenes in the series is a direct example of this: At a supper party, a group of upscale, white, middle-aged gay males react madly when Mouse’s younger, nonwhite boyfriend calls them out for what he views as their advantage. The ideas aren’t very clear, however the emotions are sharp due to the fact that actors like Dan Butler, Malcolm Gets and Brooks Ashmanskas are brought in to play the visitors. Stephen Spinella gets a good meta-moment, snapping that the sweetheart doesn’t comprehend their battle even if he saw “Angels in America.”
That scene stands almost alone, though. A 1960 s flashback episode, revealing Anna’s early days in the city, has a shape to it, a minimum of, and advantages from the efficiencies of the transgender actresses Jen Richards and Daniela Vega (star of the Chilean film “A Great Female”). And other entertainers make welcome appearances in little parts, including Mary Louise Wilson and John Glover as homeowners of a queer assisted living home and Danny Burstein as Shawna’s uncle.
The original formula of “Tales of City” involved putting Linney’s screwball-comedy energy as Mary Ann at the center of a sexed-up but relatively standard daytime soap plot. That’s still the template, however what was quirky and entertaining then– with Richard Kramer, a “Thirtysomething” veteran, on board as an author and executive manufacturer– is draggy, preachy and a little morbid now. May also blame it on the internet in addition to whatever else.