Parents' Guide to

Tales of the City

By Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Nudity, drugs, quirky charm in classic literary miniseries.

TV PBS Drama 1993
Tales of the City Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.

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So controversial when it first aired in 1993 that PBS was positively deluged with complaints, this early experiment in quality TV is dated now, but still charming. Some moments seem tame to today's audiences -- a scene with two men waking up in bed together caused a media firestorm in 1993 is nothing compared to Looking or Queer As Folk -- while others still have the power to shock: Mona pulls out a vial of cocaine and chops up and then snorts four lines, and matter-of-factly whips off her shirt to change for work, scandalizing both Mary Ann and a modern audience mostly unused to free-range breasts, particularly presented in a non-sexual context.

There are also some moments in the series that may upset the sensibilities of woke audience members, principally the all-white main cast -- there are two characters of color in the series, but both are marginalized, and one is subject to a plot twist so strange that it almost reads as speculative fiction. But most of the archaic people and places in Tales of the City are interesting relics: Coed bathhouses! Wealthy socialites with opera glasses! Day jobs that pay enough for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco! Karen Black as a crazed fat-farm matron! Younger viewers may have to grab their phones to make sense of retro references like Est, Reverend Jim Jones, and Bill Blass, but all in all, this artifact has worn very well and deserved to be watched -- again, or for the first time.

TV Details

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