It took us 18 years to return to 28 Barbary Lane. And we are all the better for it.
But first, we need to know who we are and where we are.
The address is the four-apartment complex that plays a major role in Tales of the City, a continuation of Armistead Maupin's groundbreaking newspaper stories of life in San Francisco, which started in 1976.
The first series premiered in 1993 on PBS. Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) gets off the bus from Cleveland in 1976 and answers an ad for a furnished apartment at 28 Barbary Lane. It is run by landlady Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), a transgender woman who is an eccentric sweetheart with lots of wise words and advice to impart. And she smokes a lot of grass. It's part of her charm.
The second series came out in 1998, More Tales of the City on Showtime, the granddaddy of pay-TV networks. The third installment, Further Tales of the City, also on Showtime, was released in 2001.
The themes involve nudity, sex, drug use and foul language -- not appropriate for the children's hour -- which could explain why PBS only produced the first toned-down series.
Netflix has resurrected the series, and there is no such thing as the children's hour on that streaming (steaming?) network.
In the 2019 series, Mrs. Madrigal is turning 90, and all friends and former tenants have been invited to the party. Now middle-aged Mary Ann (Linney) brings her husband, Richard (Michael Park), along. He is not as enamored of the "freaks and weirdos" as she is.
Still residing at the apartment (after 30 years) is Michael "Mouse" Tolliver (Murray Bartlett), Mary Ann's best friend and confidante. (Bartlett is the third actor to play Mouse).
Differences abound in this go-round. The wonderfully quirky music is gone, as are several characters from the first three series. Lots of new (read young) characters are introduced, the most interesting being Mary Ann and ex-husband Brian Hawkins' (Paul Gross) daughter Shawna (Ellen Page).
This series relies a lot on Shawna, the estranged daughter of Mary Ann.
The other four tenants are nowhere near as interesting.
As with the other series, the tenants rely on Mrs. Madrigal and she regards them as her children. It's a relationship that really works.
A pivotal moment occurs that centers on the current generation gap. Mouse takes his 28-year-old boyfriend Ben (Charlie Barnett) to a dinner party of middle-age gay men. During the conversation one of them uses a word to describe transgender men.
Ben instantly chides the guest for using a word he considers offensive. Almost one by one, the other guests set about putting young Ben in his place. The following are paraphrased from the actual dialogue.
"Read the room, kid. Know when to speak and when not to."
"It isn't your place to judge us."
"Don't correct your elders."
"Why does your generation have to put a label on everything?"
"You take your freedom for granted when we are the ones who fought and died for that freedom."
"When I was 28 I wasn't going to dinner parties, I was going to funerals. Sometimes three in a week, so don't tell me what I can and cannot say in a group of gay men."
"Children should be seen and not heard." (I added that last one.)
Ben leaves the party in a huff.
There is a flashback to Anna Madrigal's past that explains how she came to own the apartment complex. As played by Jen Richards, Anna gets a job at famed City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, where her story unfolds. No spoilers here.
Subplots include a suspected murderer, production of a "cutting-edge" documentary, social media get-rich schemes (#whatinhell?!), divorce and death.
Along with sex, nudity, dirty words, humor, pathos and marijuana, there are big secrets, big lies, big treachery and some big blackmail. Page, Linney and especially Dukakis stand out in an excellent cast.
If you haven't seen the first three series, you owe it to yourself to do so. That way you can appreciate and understand the characters at 28 Barbary Lane.
MovieStyle on 06/21/2019
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