Tales Of The City
It's hard to believe that only 10 years ago, the PBS adaptation of Tales Of The City caused a public furor, primarily because it depicted gay and lesbian relationships casually, unflinchingly, and nonjudgmentally. But the ground it broke in 1993 paved the way for increasingly gay-positive television shows that now, in retrospect, make Tales look a bit quaint. Author Armistead Maupin started his sprawling saga as a newspaper fiction serial, and the long-unavailable-on-video TV version retains some of the newspaper column's episodic form: Its pace is leisurely, but it operates in short segments that often end in low-key punchlines or mild dramatic teasers. Over the course of six 50-minute episodes, Maupin wanders around his version of 1969 San Francisco, initially seen through the eyes of naïve Ohio native Laura Linney, who moves to the welcoming big city to escape a family too provincial to be believed. Horrified by the sexually liberated attitude of old high-school friend Parker Posey, she quickly moves out of Posey's place and into an idyllic boarding house run by Olympia Dukakis, a friendly matriarch given to weird utterances and open marijuana cultivation and distribution. Linney's boarding-house neighbors include self-proclaimed fag-hag Chloe Webb, her sweet gay buddy Marcus D'Amico, and casual womanizer Paul Gross; once Webb gets Linney a secretarial job working for terminally ill advertising executive Donald Moffat, Linney starts to let go of her moral repression, and she embarks on an ill-advised affair with Moffat's slimy son-in-law Thomas Gibson, to the semi-resigned despair of Gibson's wife, Barbara Garrick. Maupin seems to make a game of developing new and sometimes ironic connections between members of his sprawling cast: D'Amico's too-perfect new boyfriend is Garrick's gynecologist, while Dukakis and Moffat meet in a park and begin their own touchingly gentle affair, and Webb's former lover moves to town and starts working for Moffat's firm. By the time Gross picks Posey up at a laundromat for a sexual encounter, the atmosphere has begun to feel relentlessly in-jokey: There seem to only be a few dozen people in San Francisco, and they spend all their time bouncing off of each other, sometimes literally. But that seems appropriate for a series that is, at heart, about the connections between people, and about the different ways and reasons they seek out such connections. Director Alastair Reid (Traffik) keeps the proceedings from feeling too much like an afternoon soap opera simply by keeping the tone mild and the dramatic histrionics to a minimum; he uses little music and generally keeps his actors understated and unassuming, which helps offset the disbelief that sets in over Maupin's more unlikely plot twists. Still, compared to the increasingly frothy and overdone drama of later series installments like Further Tales Of The City, the original Tales is practically naturalistic. To the chagrin of the offended prudes of the early '90s, it simply tells a few stories about sex, romance, and love, focusing more on the characters' personalities than their genders.