I’m really excited to see some exceptional old friends tonight.
It’s been over 20 years since I first met them. They’re a lot of fun, kind and loving, but often, they are also quite complicated. Ok, these aren’t’ really my friends, and we’ve never actually met, but I feel like I know them.
I’m referring to Mrs. Madrigal, Mary Anne Singleton, and Mouse. These are three fictional characters who all “lived” at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco – an address so intriguing, I wished it were real, so I could actually move there. Luckily, I’ll at least be able to revisit Barbary Lane soon. The reboot of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” airs Friday, June 7 on Netflix.
A not-so-guilty pleasure
I was in my early 20s when the original “Tales of the City” miniseries first hit the airwaves. At that time, gay characters on TV were still few and far between. The buzz surrounding the show ignited the LGB (before the TQI + were added) community. I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be about, but from all I had read, it was going to be groundbreaking and authentic in its depiction of gay characters. Needless to say, it delivered.
Based on a series of columns by Maupin in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Tales of the City” made its debut on PBS in 1994. Just as promised, it was apologetically real in its portrayal of gay life in San Francisco during the late 70s. In some ways, the show felt like a guilty pleasure. Each night I waited to see the “controversial gay kisses, bathhouse hookups, and even tender scenes of two men, just lying in bed together. However, there was far more than that to Maupin’s story. The show was really about misfits. The bigger context was about how those misfits found each other and formed lifetime bonds and alliances.
At the heart of the series was Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney), the wholesome, blond, “girl next door” with impossible dimples and wide-eyed wonder. She was a transplant from Cleveland to the city of San Francisco, and now a new resident of 28 Barbary Lane. This location becomes the epicenter of the series; a charming apartment complex owned by Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) – an eclectic old woman with a secret of her own.
Mary Ann is immediately established in “Tales of the City” as the character through which TV viewers can vicariously take in all she sees, which includes the antics, loves, lives and losses, experienced by her close circle of gay friends and eccentrics.
An Oscar-celebrated cast sparkles in the new “Tales of the City”
With some original cast members returning to the series, the story now finds Mary Ann in present-day San Francisco, reunited with her daughter Shawna (Ellen Page) and ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross), twenty years after leaving them behind to pursue her career. Fleeing the midlife crisis that her picture-perfect Connecticut life created, Mary Ann is quickly drawn back into the orbit of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis reprises her role), her chosen family, and a new generation of queer young residents living at 28 Barbary Lane.
I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the new cast members for Grit Daily partner Instinct Magazine at this year’s GLAAD Media Awards. In an exclusive red carpet Q&A, beautiful model-turned-actress, May Hong, shared insight on her new role and what it’s like to work alongside such notable Hollywood icons as Dukakis and Linney:
Whether you remember the original series from 1994, or you’re simply curious to meet the beautiful kindred spirits of Maupin’s masterpiece for the first time, the ten-part series makes its debut on Netflix today. I can’t wait to catch up with the gang and take a long-anticipated trip back down Barbary Lane.