A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tales of the City is a series adapted from the San Francisco-set novels by Armistad Maupin and the miniseries of the same name, which began airing in 1994. As in the original series, many scenes and subplots have mature content connected to sex and drugs. Characters use drugs to deal with stresses (and to celebrate), sharing drinks, joints, and bongs. Casual sex is common: A couple considers having group sex, and two women hook up for the first time in an alleyway (all we see is fully clothed kissing). We do see nudity in nonsexual contexts, with a woman's breasts bared for a burlesque performance, and a man's naked backside visible on the way to a shower. Language includes "f--k," "f--king," "hell," "goddamn," and "s--t." Characters come from many stripes of the LGBTQ community, with gay, bisexual, trans, and lesbian characters, who are also racially and ethnically diverse. This representation is one of the most positive parts of this show, with all characters accepted for who they are and supported by friends and loved ones.
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What's the story?
Based on the series of novels by Armistad Maupin and the related miniseries that began with 1994's Tales of the City on PBS, TALES OF THE CITY brings many of the same characters back together in current-day San Francisco. In the same apartment building on Barbary Lane where we first met her in the first series' 70s setting (don't bother to do the math; it doesn't work out), Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) still holds court over a ramshackle family of misfits. Notably, these include Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney), newly returned from her demanding East Coast TV career, "Mouse" Tolliver (Murray Bartlett), who's carrying on a flaming affair with the much younger Ben (Charlie Barnett), and Mary Ann's ex Brian (Paul Gross), who has a big secret he hasn't shared yet with daughter Shawna (Ellen Page).
Is it any good?
This update of the all-time classic miniseries mixes nostalgia and the now somewhat awkwardly, but it's sweet, soapy, and inclusive enough to charm, particularly those who loved the original. There's a gorgeous moment in the first episode that's the best kind of fan service: A back-in-town Mary Ann charges up the same staircase filmed for the 1990s version and into Anna's 90th birthday party, gazing about her in wonder to find the house and grounds virtually unchanged. Then Anna emerges from an upstairs room and the two lock eyes: both older, more lined, but still there. It's been 25 years since the first Tales of the City aired to great acclaim (and great controversy) on PBS; viewers who were watching at the time can be forgiven for misting up at seeing these iconic characters share a screen again.
About that word "iconic," though: Anna comments in a pleasingly meta way about the show's venerable lineage, "I suppose Barbary Lane has become iconic, but people get uncomfortable around old things. When someone grows old, it remind us of the inevitability of death and before you know it, you're using words like 'iconic' instead of 'old.'" Ouch. The very same viewers who caught the original on TV may resemble that remark, even as they fall under Barbary Lane's spell again. New viewers may not appreciate the series as much, particularly in the early episodes, when subplots about a lesbian/transman couple, a set of twins with Instagram ambitions, and others seem a bit shoehorned in. But as lovably written as they are -- by Orange Is the New Black's Lauren Morelli -- and animated by terrific new actors like Ellen Page and Charlie Barnett as well as old friends like Linney and Dukakis, it's easy to sign up for another stretch on Barbary Lane.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role sex plays in these characters' lives and how it compares to the lives of real people. Does Tales of the City play up the importance of sex for the sake of ratings, or is it striving for realism?
How does Tales of the City's tone compare to that of other series centered on LGBTQ characters, and how well does it succeed at portraying their dreams and struggles? Teens: How have depictions of gay people in the media changed since your parents were born? Since they were in their teens or 20s?
Does the drug use in this show seem excessive? If you have seen the original miniseries, how does it compare to the drug use and drinking in that series?
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For kids who love drama
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