In 1994, Tales of the City, was a soapy miniseries based on a series of novels penned by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Armistead Maupin. Now, 25 years later, Netflix is reviving the series, and it’s bringing back characters from the original. So, if you want to get acquainted with the show’s past storylines, you might want to know how to watch the first Tales of the City.
Unfortunately, as of now, you won’t find the original series on Netflix or Hulu, but you can find it on Acorn TV, a monthly subscription service that streams British series (the show was produced by the UK's Channel 4). Currently, Acorn TV offers a seven-day free trial, so you can easily utilize that to watch the six-episode miniseries. You can also head to other pay-per-episode streaming services to find it. On Amazon Prime Video, you’ll find the entire season available for $11.49, or you could purchase each episode separately for $1.99. For about 20 bucks, you can purchase the entire season on Youtube, or you could download and stream it through iTunes or the Google Play Store for the same price
Both the original and new version of Tales of the City are based on Maupin’s novels of the same name. The original series starred Laura Linney as Midwest woman named Mary Ann Singleton who moved to San Fransisco and began renting an apartment from Anna Madrigal, a transgender landlady played by Olympia Dukakis. Mary Ann befriends many of the building’s gay and bisexual tenants, and ends up falling for her neighbor Brian, played by actor Paul Gross. As reported by Deadline, Linney, Dukakis, and Gross are reprising their roles in the new Netflix series, with actress Ellen Page joining the cast as Mary Ann and Brian’s daughter, Shawna.
The series first aired on UK’s Channel 4 in 1993 and then came to America through PBS in 1994. But according to the New York Times, conservatives opposed the show’s realistic depictions of sex, drugs, and the LGBTQ lifestyle, so PBS decided not to renew the show despite it’s successful run. In 1998, Channel 4 produced a sequel to the series titled More Tales of the City, which aired on Showtime in the United States. In 2001, Showtime took over the series, and aired its third installment, Further Tales of the City.
In an interview with Another Man, the author and creator behind the series revealed that he’s been involved with all of the series since the beginning, but this time around, he was able to get the series original producer on board, along with a much more inclusive writing staff.
“We had an all-queer writing room, what a luxury,” Maupin said of the new Netflix series. “We had everybody [from the LGBTQ community] in that room, and we set out to do that — We were a varied and interesting bunch in the writers’ room and as a consequence stories emerged that might not have emerged if people hadn’t been bringing their own experiences. But we had the same producer [as before] Alan Poul, and that’s provided a continuity that’s completely necessary, really, because he’s somebody who understood the characters even when the casting changed.”
Tales of the City was ahead of its time in 1994, but luckily, things have changed, and audiences are opening their hearts to all kinds of love stories. And now, during Pride Month, I can’t think of a better time to sit and watch the original story of Anna Madrigal and her wondrous life, and then catch up with her as she reconnects with Mary Ann in the new Netflix revival.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City hits Netflix on Jun. 7.