Picking Up On 'Queer' Narrative: Tales Of The City Review
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
What would happen if HBO Looking and Big little lies had a child? The answer is Tales of the City.
While the style and presentation feel very familiar to that of shows from the HBO family. Tales of the City is a Netflix production, and its parent company infuses some welcomed traits of its own identity to enhance some of the limitations that afflicted previous LGBTQ+ content such as Looking.
Based on Armistead Maupin's books, his saga gets a millennial refresh and captures both the incredible history of one of the world's cultural capitals (San Francisco) and its current constant siege by the exact same forces that make a mini-series such as this one possible.
Tales of the city allows for more character development; its pace is not confined to a set episode time format, and the series is given a binge model release. Netflix allows for more content, and with it, the opportunity for characters to breathe and slowly tell their stories. The show's ambition to include as much of 'queer' culture as possible, creates a challenge where the vast majority of identities of today's LGBTQ+ community are compressed into archetypes and loaded into a proverbial Noah's arc for queer people. The arc succeeds, and while only being able to save/showcase a limited amount of today's vast and layered community. Its diversity is very welcomed and in some cases, even successful in portraying a 'natural' look into what it means to be 'queer' in today's age.
Magic happens around episode 4 when the characters become fully fleshed in a Pinocchio's parable of sorts. Characters are finally allowed to tell their individual stories in a more layered context. The second half of the series is colored in a loose 'Murder she wrote' by Angela Lansbury plot. A reference that even the show jokingly admits to.
The new scheme offers the characters a chance to anchor their ethos both in their need to tie 'loose ends' and to find a new 'home' for themselves in the process. The final episodes tie the story together with an 'eat, pray, love' node; characters reconcile their past, present, and look towards the future.
The series allows atonement not only for the individual characters and their stories but also for a narrative previously told within LGBTQ+ content. Even before some of the letters and concepts were reclaimed/adopted by a new generation within the community. LGBTQ+ material of the 90s and 00s offered a biased and unidimensional look to some of the more vulnerable groups and/or visible groups. While content is appreciated for visibility sake, there were many limitations and concerns about the handling of such subjects.
Tales of the city approaches some of the same topics, being careful to showcase the stories sensitively and responsibly; paying respect and tribute to history from a previous generation and introducing new narratives for the future. The legacy of Tales of the City will reside in offering a solid compilation of both past, and present LGBTQ+ topics; positioning itself as an influencer for the next generation of LGBTQ+ content. Future productions can learn from its success blending ambitious and layered themes with the intimacy of individual stories that are brought to life by distinctive and well-outlined characters in the form of allegories.