TV Review: Further Tales of the City (2001)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2001
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 3
Summary/Review:

I’ve finished off watching all the televisual adaptions of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books with 2001’s More Tales of the City.  This is the shortest of all the miniseries and apparently was released in three episodes, although the version I watched on YouTube was edited together into a single three hour movie.  The brevity actually benefits the film, because this is the weakest of all 9 Tales of the City books and consolidating the story actually improves the narrative a bit.

More Tales of the City revolved a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about an Episcopalian cannibal cult. Further Tales of the City revolves around a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about cult leader Jim Jones living in San Francisco three years after the Jonestown massacre.  This main story line has DeDe (Barbara Garrick) and her adorable toddler children returning home after having gone to live at Jonestown, surviving the massacre, escaping to Cuba, and then being expelled for being lesbian.  The story does give Garrick a part with more gravitas which she performs well and makes me wonder why DeDe was played mostly for laughs in the 2019 miniseries.

Another central character is Prue (Mary Kay Place), a friend of DeDe’s who had only a small role in previous series, but is the one who discovers and befriends Jim Jones, using the alias Luke (Henry Czerny), when he was living in a maintenance shed in Golden Gate Park.  Her sidekick is Father Paddy, a gossipy and secretly gay priest, played by Bruce McCullough (the second member of Kids in the Hall to appear in Tales of the City after Scott Thompson played a bit part in the previous installment). Another newcomer is a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh as news anchor Bambi Kanetaka, who is Mary Ann’s rival at the tv station and who’s mistreatment by the 28 Barbary Lane family reflects poorly on them and is another reason I like this book the least.

The other storylines seem to be treading water.  Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Brian (Whip Hubley) are in a long-term relationship now, but straining over Mary Ann’s career focus (something that is better developed in the later books).  Michael (Paul Hopkins) has broken off with Jon (Billy Campbell) basically because of low self-esteem and has a series of flings with an actor (a character Maupin based on his real life lover Rock Hudson), a cop, and a cowboy.  And Mother Mucca (Jackie Burroughs) introduces Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) to a man named Royal Reichenbach (John McMartin) in a story created solely for television.

It’s a shame that they were never able to continue adapting the books with the original-ish cast.  Book 4, Babycakes, is my favorite of all the books and all three of the books from the 1980s are more character-driven and deal with more serious issues, especially the AIDS crisis.  Maupin was one of the first authors to include depictions of AIDS in fiction.  Alas, to what could’ve been.

Related posts:

TV Review: More Tales of the City (1998)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 1998
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

Having watched the new Netflix series Tales of the City and then rewatched the classic 1993 miniseries Tales of the City, I dug up the sequel to the original, More Tales of the City on YouTube of all places. This miniseries suffers from the fact that it’s based on one of the weakest books in the Tales of the City series and can’t improve on its source material. The series also  anfeatures several characters cast with new actors that can be jarring.

Paul Hopkins takes over as Michael Tolliver and he end being my least favorite of the three actors to play Michael, as he overdoes the Southern accent and seems to lean in to hard on playing a stereotype of 70s gay man. Nina Siemaszko is somewhat more successful as Mona, playing the character with more vulnerability, but also looking like she’s cosplaying Chloe Webb as Mona. Diana Leblanc takes over for Frannie Halcyon who has a much bigger role in this story, and bears a startling resemblance to Barbara Garrick who plays her onscreen daughter.  Françoise Robertson takes over for D’orothea and also is an improvement for a character getting a bigger role.  Finally, Whip Hubley plays Brian, and while he looks too much like a 70s sitcom character, he does inhabit the role well.

The miniseries overall does have more of a sitcom feel and a lot of the cinematography and direction that made the original Tales of the City great is replaced by more pedestrian styles. I find the plot twists over-the-top (SPOILER) such as Beauchamp dies in a car wreck, Michael is suddenly paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome, and Burke uncovered a Episcopalian cannibal cult! Again, though, those all come from the original source, so they do the best they can.

The main plots of the story involve Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Michael going on a cruise to Mexico.  Mary Ann finds romance with a man who has amnesia regarding his time in San Francisco, Burke (Colin Ferguson), while Michael is reacquainted with Jon (William Campbell).  Meanwhile, Mona, feeling lost in life, journeys to Nevada where she ends up working as a receptionist at a brothel for Mother Mucca (a cracking good Jackie Burroughs who is actually 8 years younger than Olympia Dukakis, despite appearances).  Brian, enjoying voyeurism from his new penthouse apartment, starts a long distance fling with a mysterious woman (Swoosie Kurtz, 14 years younger than Olympia Dukakis) in another building via binoculars. DeDe has her babies with the help of her new friend-come-lover D’orthea.

It was interesting to finaly see this after 21 years, but unlike the original, I don’t think it would be worth an additional viewing.

TV Review: Tales of the City (1993)


Title Tales of the City
Release Dates: 1993
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

After watching the new Tales of the City miniseries on Netflix, I saw that this original miniseries is also on Netflix and had to rewatch.  As good as the new series is, this original is really a masterpiece of television.  There’s a lot about it I love – the dialogue, the pacing, the way San Francisco is incorporated as a character, the camerawork (I especially enjoy how many scenes are shot through windows), and the music, both the period-specific pop tunes and the original score for the series. The new series, and well, a lot of television misses these deft touches.

I also like how it slowly reveals that in a city where no one seems to have any secrets that everyone has deep secrets indeed.  I like how well they handled a romance between an older couple – Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) and Edgar Halcyon (Donald Moffat) – something you rarely see depicted on film.  Marcus D’Amico is really the most heartwarming perfomer as Michael Tolliver, and I really loved his strong friendship with Mona Ramsey (Chloe Webb). That Michael in the new series doesn’t share any memories of Mona and even changes the story of how he met Mrs. Madrigal is all the more disappointing.

Even though I haven’t watched this in at least 20 years, I was surprised how well I remembered so many scenes.  The big exception is that I forgot the whole thing about D’orothea (Cynda Williams) pretending to be Black and Mona trying to appeal to her with sould food, which is one of the big misteps of this whole series and worth forgetting about.  Otherwise this is a terrific show and if you have Netflix give yourself a treat and watch it.

TV Review: Tales of the City (2019)


Title Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 4
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

25 years ago, my sister introduced me to the PBS miniseries Tales of the City, which proved to be an eye-opening experiencing of seeing the intertwined lives of a group of people in San Francisco in the period of Gay Liberation and Sexual Revolution of the 1970s.  A couple more miniseries were made for a cable channel that I never saw, but I did end up reading the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin multiple times.  Maupin began Tales of the City as a newspaper column in 1974 and then compiled the stories into five novels through the 1970s and 1980s.  Maupin tied up the series with an original novel in 1989, but a couple of decades later he returned to the characters with three new novels published between 2007 and 2014.

And now Tales of the City returns to tv with a Netflix miniseries that draws on both the recent novels and the  1993 miniseries, with additional new characters and plots.  The story is set in the present day which creates a big cognitive roadblock for me as a Tales of the City fan.  The characters should have aged 40+ years since 1976, but the actors playing them have only aged 25 years and thus much of their backstories don’t add up.  With a large part of the story focusing on generational differences, we have the original Boomer characters and the new Millenial characters, but Generation X is completely erased (except, of course, that Gen X actors are playing the Boomers).

Leaving that aside, this version of Tales of the City viewed on its own is an excellent work of television.  In additon to the generational conflicts, the show focuses on truth, family, forgiveness, and how gentrification disrupts community and history.  LGBTQ actors are cast to play LGBTQ characters and the new cast brings a greater racial diversity.

Olympia Dukakis returns as Anna Madrigal, one of the great characters of literature and film.  Under threat of blackmail, Anna decides to sell her Barbary Lane apartment building.  A flashback episode to 1966 depicts Anna’s arrival in San Francisco and a shocking secret.  Young Anna is portrayed magnificently by Jen Richards, who is actually a transgender woman unlike Dukakis.

Laura Linney returns as Mary Ann Singleton.  Her character returns to San Francisco after 20 years to attend Anna’s 90th birthday party, and decides to stay when she realizes how much she misses it as her home.  Mary Ann dives into solving the mystery of why Anna is selling Barbary Lane. Initially, her character is off-putting, a pushy and privileged white woman from Connecticut, but over the course of the series she softens back into the Mary Ann we loved.

Murray Bartlett joins the cast as Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, and despite being way too young to play Michael, he does a great job inhabiting the character and has great chemistry with the other actors as if he’d been there all along.  Michael is dealing with a much younger boyfriend Ben (inspired by, but different from a character in the books and played by Charlie Barnett), and the return of an old lover who’d abandoned him, Harrison (Matthew Risch playing a character who as nothing in common with Michael’s former book boyfriends, Jon and Thack).

Paul Gross returns as Brian Hawkins, Mary Ann’s ex-husband, who raised his adoptive daughter as a single father and runs a garden nursery with Michael.  He is looking to get back in the dating game but keeps meeting up with women who remind him of Mary Ann.  He also attempts a relationship with his best friend Wren (played by Michelle Buteau, a really great character inspired by a book character of the same name, who should have had a bigger part).

The new, younger characters are also great.  Ellen Page plays Brian’s adoptive daughter Shawna, who is unaware that she was adopted and resents Mary Ann for leaving her behind (this was definitely NOT a plot in the books).  She’s pansexual and works for a radical cooperative burlesque bar that is central to many scenes of the series. And since Page is playing a character who is the biological child of a character played by Parker Posey, I now need to see Page and Posey together in a movie.

Other Barbary Lane residents include transgender man Jake Rodriguez (Garcia) and his partner Margot Park (May Hong).  Jake is realizing he is now attracted to men, while Margot regrets losing her lesbian identity from before Jake’s transition, leading to tension and eventual breakup.  Jake is a character from the newer books but characterized somewhat differently here, including having him be of Latinx heritage, while Margot is a characer new to the miniseries.

The other residents of Barbary Lane are a twin siblings Jennifer (Ashley Park) and Jonathan (Christopher Larkin) who dedicate their lives to performance art in hopes of becoming successful Instagram influencers.  Unfortunately, most of their plot is cliched Millenial sterotypes, although they are good comic relief.  They also are tied in with another returning character, DeDe Halcyon Day (Barbara Garrick), a wealthy socialite delighted to have young people make use of her mansion for their performance parties.

One frustrating element is that when Anna’s blackmailer is revealed, they are portrayed as a cartoon villain, ruining what I thought had been an intersting, nuanced character up that point.  Barring that, Tales of the City is a touching, funny, and thoughtful story and a  worthy addition to the ouevre.

Book Review: The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin


Author: Armistead Maupin
TitleThe Days of Anna Madrigal
Narrator: Kate Mulgrew
Publication Info: New York : Harper Audio, 2014.
Summary/Review:

This may be the last in the series of Tales of the City stories, although we’ve heard that before.  Recent novels in the series focused on characters Michael Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton, and this volume follows the model by centering on Anna Madrigal, now 92 and increasingly fragile.  Unusual for the series, there are extensive flashback scenes to Mrs. Madrigal’s childhood as Andy Ramsey, growing up in a brothel in the Nevada desert.  Pretty much every other character is planning and eventually attending the Burning Man Festival, with it not being much of a surprise that they will all come together.  Brian’s new wife Wren offers some wry commentary on the series’ penchant for unlikely coincidence and general nuttiness, which also doubles as exposition for anyone not able to remember incidents in the early books. Having Kate Mulgrew narrate the audiobook is the most perfect casting decision since Olympia Dukakis played Anna Madrigal in the film miniseries. It’s not a perfect book – Maupin uses on of his favorite tricks, a serious Michael Tolliver illness to create tension – but if it is the final book, it is a good farewell to a cast of beloved characters.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin


AuthorArmistead Maupin
TitleMary Ann in Autumn
Narrator: Armistead Maupin
Publication Info: Harper Audio, 2010
ISBN: 9780062007131
Summary/Review:

As a long-time fan of the Tales of the City series, I was surprised that there are not one but two new books in the series I’d missed out on.  This volume follows-up on the first-person narrated Michael Tolliver Lives, but resumes the interlocked stories of several characters told from a third-person omniscient narrator like the original six novels.  The other return to form is the appearance of Mary Ann Singleton, who was the central character of the serialized stories of the 1970s and 1980s.  Mary Ann’s characterization in recent stories has not been flattering in the least, but here she returns to San Francisco for the support of her friend Michael, having left her wealthy husband and learned she has cancer.  In addition, to Mary Ann and Michael, there are stories about Michael’s husband Ben, Michael’s friend/employee Jake, Mary Ann’s estranged daughter Shawna, and the always lovely Anna Madrigal, the landlady from the earlier stories.  There’s even a surprise return of a storyline from the earliest Tales of the City stories.  Themes of the novel include aging, mortality, and second chances.  A nice addition to the series.

Rating: ***1/2