A few years ago I read a book called Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin and rather enjoyed it. I was excited to see that Netflix was releasing a limited series of the same name and I started watching it… only to realise that it was actually the follow-up to three 90’s mini-series and that I couldn’t really remember what had happened in the book so I decided to try and track down the original series and low and behold two of them are on All4!
After going on holiday to San Francisco, Ohio native, Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) decides she isn’t going home. She moves into a sprawling house on Barbary Lane where the mysterious Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) lets out apartments.
Also living at Barbary Lane are Mona Ramsay (Chloe Webb), an advertising copywriter with an unusual romantic past. Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (Marcus D’Amico), a wide-eyed young gay man looking for love. Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), a handsome serial womaniser. And the very odd Normal Neal Williams (Stanley DeSantis) who supposedly sells vitamins.
Both Mona and Mary Ann work for the Halcyon Advertising agency where Mary Ann is drawn to her married boss, Beauchamp Day (Thomas Gibson). Beauchamp is married to DeDe Halcyon (Barbara Garrick), a privileged socialite unhappy with her place in life.
As the lives of the residents collide and interweave not only with each other but also with the Halycon family and their wider circle important themes of sexuality, gender identity, romantic and family relationships, mental health, drugs and even sexual slavery are explored.
I enjoyed the series just as much as the book. It is set in the 70’s and came out in the 90’s. The 70’s setting is done beautifully and feels completely authentic. Watching it you feel transported to the sexual, societal and cultural revolution happening in San Francisco at the time. Laura Linney is perfect to play the coy and repressed Mary-Ann and I loved D’Amico as the utterly charming Mouse. Dukakis steals every scene she is in and her relationship with the dying Edgar Halcyon (Donald Moffat) is so magical.
Some of the topics explored must have been rather more shocking when this came out in 1993 and I imagine it courted a lot of controversy. While we’re a bit more used to many of themes, they’re still absolutely at the forefront of social consciousness and seeing the ways in which many of the characters deal with the taboos in their lives is very affecting.