Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City [Acorn]—the 1993 miniseries, based on Maupin's 1978 novel of the same name—was highly controversial when it premiered, so much that the UK network Channel Four couldn't initially find a U.S. partner. They did eventually line up PBS, which broadcast the show with stern warnings about nudity, coarse language, drug use and sexual situations. "Tales of the City" took place in San Francisco, after all.
Watching the new 20th Anniversary Edition, the warnings can be pretty much discounted. The drama, though, remains very good. There are some who place this in a class with the best miniseries ever; I've not seen them all, so I'm no judge. But "Tales of the City" remains compellingly watchable and graced with an intriguing set of characters and storylines.
Sheltered young Mary Ann from Cleveland, finishing a San Francisco vacation, decides to quit her job and stay. She lands in an unconventional apartment complex on a steep hill run by the mysterious Mrs. Madrigal. Through her downstairs neighbor Mona and Mona's platonic friend/roommate "Mouse," Mary Ann finds a job and an interrelated set of friends and acquaintances that you might say cover the San Francisco scene of the time.
"Tales of the City" captures a time and a place and a dandy cast of characters, and does it well in six episodes. Acorn includes commentary on three on the episodes (from Linney, Dukakis and others) plus a 36-minute bonus including location and rehearsal footage. There is also an 8-page booklet offering illuminating background on the creation of the show in a repressed time.
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