Regular readers of this blog will know that I watched and reviewed three previous mini-series based on the Tales of he City novels by Armistead Maupin. All of that was kicked off by seeing this series come up on Netflix. I started watching it and realised I had missed too much in between reading the first book and this follow up to the original series and wasn’t entirely sure what was going on or who everyone was.
Watching the past series sort of helped but sort of didn’t because there was still a big gap. If you’re going to check this out it’t probably worth doing a quick Wikipedia read of the book synopses, like I did.
It’s Anna Madrigal’s (Olympia Dukakis) 90th birthday and the residents of Barbary Lane are throwing a big party to celebrate this doyenne of the San Francisco queer community. Having been away for twenty years, Mary Ann (Laura Linney) sees this as the perfect opportunity to reconnect with her old friends, including her ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross) and estranged adopted daughter, Shawna (Ellen Page).
Unfortunately for Mary Ann isn’t as well received as she might have hoped. Shawna has written her off, Brian is still stuck in their past, Michael’s (Murray Bartlett) younger boyfriend (Charlie Barnett) finds her extremely annoying and Dede (Barbara Garrick) isn’t sure she wants her as a houseguest.
As Mary Ann’s marriage starts to unravel she uses the fact that Anna is potentially being blackmailed into giving up Barbary Lane to stay behind in San Francisco.
Meanwhile the newer younger residents of Barbary Lane are facing various relationship and identity crises of their own, all while documentary maker, Claire (Zosia Mamet) films in the background.
On the plus side Laura Linney is still the perfect Mary Ann. She embodies her frenetic energy and her inability to let anything go. While she stays true to the character you can see how she’s grown and changed. Olympia Dukakis is always magnificent and while Anna is not in the forefront as much, she is still the best part of every scene she is in. The storytelling has moved on a bit from the super-soapy 90’s and early 00’s previous series and that maturity makes it a lot less eyerolly. I also enjoyed the sheer diversity of the characters and their identities in terms of gender, sexuality and relationships. I liked seeing Zosia Mamet in a completely different role to Soshanna in Girls and it was great having Bob, the Drag Queen pop up too.
On the downside, Dede’s now grown up twins are incredibly annoying. Maybe I am old but I really just didn’t get the point of any of their social media obsession story line and I could have done without it. I also found the sex scenes extremely gratuitous. I am not squeamish about nudity or sex onscreen between actors of any genders, however this was so in your face it bordered on being soft porn and it actually distracted from the narrative. I watch a fair bit of TV on my phone on the train on the commute and I was uncomfortable watching this in public.
I think this one is probably for fans only. I’m not sure anyone who was unfamiliar with Tales of the City as either a TV or novel series would get much for this.