This Friday, Netflix’s upcoming “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” will drop, causing great excitement amongst bookish gay people of a certain age, like me. This is the fourth installment in the series, coming 18 years after the last one aired in 2001. This mirrors a similar 18-year gap between the publication of the “Tales of the City” books: “Sure of You” in 1989 was thought to be the final book in the series, until the surprise appearance of “Michael Tolliver Lives” in 2007.
Why is this a big deal? Let’s take a magic carpet ride back to the ’70s when gay liberation was going full-steam at least in big cities where gay men and lesbians were forming communities and creating a culture uniquely their own. Out of this came the San Francisco-set “Tales of the City” which began as a serialized story in the Pacific Sun and then the San Francisco Chronicle before being collected in book form starting in 1978.
“Tales of the City” was light years beyond anything we’d seen before in terms of depicting the queer community, showing us as fully rounded human beings with foibles, humanity, and humor integrated fully into the more evolved and groovy city of San Francisco. Before this, to wildly generalize, most literature about gay men and lesbians focused on tortured sexuality or shame. Armistead’s writing reflected a completely different post-liberation attitude where gay was okay. Most of all, it showed that we all make our own family sometimes, in this case with the marvelous Mrs. Madrigal at the center of it all.
Alright, enough preface. For those of you not in the know, just download the books and read. Not only are the books a hoot (although turning more serious later as the AIDS crisis hits), they give a window into another time and place, where we’d all like to live. For those too blind like me to read books any longer (I use a Kindle so I can zoom in on the words), fire up the TV and catch the previous mini-series. These set the template for the later “Queer As Folk” (also maybe coming back?).
The best news of all about this 10-episode revival is that it’s not a reboot with an entirely new cast; instead, original stars Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, and Paul Gross are reprising their roles. Alas, we get a third Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, this time played by Murray Barlett of “Looking”. The story moves forward and backwards, with Armistead’s addition of new characters to reflect the younger generation’s ever-broadening definition of gender and identity, along with flash-backs to Mrs. Madrigal’s origins. New additions to the cast include Ellen Page, Molly Ringwald, Zosia Mamet (“Girls”), Victor Garber, and Bob the Drag Queen (yay!!!).
Alright, binge it and report back to me!