Tales of the City (2019)

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Tales of the City (2019) TV Poster Image
Revamp of groundbreaking series has nostalgia, inclusion.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of inclusion and tolerance run throughout the series: Everyone is accepted for their quirks and foibles, and their desires, sexual and otherwise, are taken seriously. On the other hand, characters frequently use drugs and alcohol to deal with stresses. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are somewhat stereotypical in the manner of a soap opera: Each tends to have an "issue" and their subplots flow from that issue. However, cast is filled with many different types of LGBTQ people: trans, bi- or pansexual, gay, lesbian, gender fluid, etc. -- welcome representation of the many ways people can have non-mainstream sexuality. 


Sexual content is frequent; expect same- and opposite-sex kissing and coupling, group sex, casual sex, and more boundary-pushing scenarios. Two women end up having sex in an alley; we see kissing up against a wall. In another scene, one man flirtatiously asks his boyfriend if he has "needs" he needs taken care of before the two fall onto a couch, kissing passionately. There's nudity in nonsexual contexts: A woman performs an avant-garde burlesque show with her breast bared, and a man is briefly visible nude from the rear.


Language and cursing includes "f--k," "f--king," "hell," "goddamn," "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters frequently drink or use drugs to handle stress, like when Mary Ann asks for two glasses of champagne on a plane when she's nervous about reaching her destination. They also use drugs at positive moments, like when one character asks another if they should smoke pot together to celebrate a reunion. Characters share joints and bongs at parties and gatherings and talk about being "high" while they giggle. It's worth noting that marijuana is decriminalized in the city the show is set in, San Francisco.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMr_Magnolia November 15, 2019

Considerably racier than CSM reviewer suggests

I was delighted to see this reboot - complete with returns of Dukakis, Linney, and Gross - because I thoroughly enjoyed the original PBS series. Just watching... Continue reading
Adult Written byThehero July 15, 2019


Great show. Love cast.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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 (Elliot 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 Elliot 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? 

TV details

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