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With pride month among us, it seems every company is jumping on the bandwagon to show their support and while welcome, in a way the message feels more like a marketing ploy than genuine awareness and respect for the LGBT community. Step forward streaming giants Netflix who get in on the action and present a unique LGBT offering in Tales of the City. Exclusively written with a marginalised group only now finding their voice in mind, there’s enough continuity from the original 1993 show to make it worth returning to again after all these years. Unfortunately, the show is let down by some questionable dialogue and frustrating “Gen Z” character work that hold this back from being a better show.
Although you don’t have to jump into this without any knowledge of the previous material, I’d highly recommend doing a little research before you do. I have no doubt that those unfamiliar with the previous show will wonder quite who all these returning characters are and will be itching to find out why they love or loathe one another. The original books are pretty well written and do justice to this group, while the 1993 series of the same name did the books justice and managed to successfully portray a thriving minority community. Going into this show without that prior knowledge presents a constant niggling feeling that you’ve missed an episode as you watch, as subtle bites of dialogue hint at previous moments that are never really explored in enough detail.
At the heart of this story is Mary Ann, who returns after a prolonged absence from the community to wish 90 year old Anna a happy birthday. This prodigal woman was the original visionary for the community and her birthday is of course significant for those who live around her. As Mary Ann arrives at the party, an outsider returning to home comforts, she finds herself confronted by the past, and in particular Shawna, the wildcard child for whom most of the drama revolves around.
As the episodes tick by, we learn more about the new community, the characters and quite what’s happened to some of the old faces during the time we’ve left them. The timeline doesn’t always make sense though and at times the continuity is a little wonky. Around the midway point, Tales of the City injects the series with a mystery for its latter portion of episodes but to be honest you’ll know within a few episodes whether this is a series for you.
The returning characters are the ones who shine the most here, with Shawna’s backstory and Mary Ann’s feelings toward the community acting as the main crux of drama for which the various subplots spiral and revolve around. While this is a welcome inclusion, the new, younger generation are regularly stifled with lacklustre dialogue full of technological nods and conversations about “influencers”. I do appreciate this is reflective of the youth today, with the ever-increasing digitization of our world, but the way it’s written here feels unnatural and contrived. The result is a tale that both shines and dims, pulsating between two different levels of quality throughout its 10 episodes.
This ultimately makes Tales of the City an uneven but predictably enjoyable drama, one that works best for those who have experienced the characters before rather than diving into this one blindly. The dialogue is a little expository-heavy at times and the constant nods toward Instagram and Influencers for “Gen Z” detracts a little from the overall message trying to be told here. It won’t be for everyone but if you can take to the style and the thematic relevance of this, you’re sure to find some enjoyment here.
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Verdict - 6/10