Netflix revives Tales of the City for yet another adaptation this summer, but viewers who are unfamiliar with its source material may be wondering if Tales of the City is based on a true story. The series does have a long legacy, but one that's strictly based in fiction. Tales of the City is based on what began as a serialized newspaper column in Marin County's alt-weekly The Pacific Sun in 1974, according to the New York Times. Penned by Armistead Maupin, the column moved to the San Francisco Chronicle two years later, and then, in 1978, the stories were compiled into Maupin's first novel, also titled Tales of the City.
Eight more novels followed, with the most recent one published in 2014, all centered around the fictional residents of 28 Barbary Lane, a San Francisco apartment complex lovingly run by its transgender landlady Anna Madrigal. Formerly a boardinghouse, 28 Barbary Lane now serves as the home base for a ragtag group of neighbors, many of whom are queer, who assemble into a chosen family of sorts. The stories, like the first miniseries which aired as a joint Channel 4/PBS production in 1994, take place in the late '70s. But the Netflix adaptation jumps forward in time to the celebration of Mrs. Madrigal's 90th birthday. Both Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis reprise their roles in the Netflix revival, playing Mary Ann Singleton and Mrs. Madrigal, respectively. The Netflix revival opens on Mary Ann returning to San Francisco for the first time in two decades to attend Mrs. Madrigal's birthday party.
Although Mrs. Madrigal's character is transgender, Tales of the City showrunner and Orange Is the New Black alum Lauren Morelli maneuvers around having a cisgender actor return to playing her by casting Jen Richards as a young Anna in flashback sequences. More queer actors have been added to the cast than in earlier adaptations as well, with Ellen Page playing Shawna, Looking's Murray Bartlett playing Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, and Drag Race alum Caldwell Tidicue (better known as Bob the Drag Queen) playing Ida Best. Anna's caregiver Jake Rodriguez will be played by Josiah Victoria Garcia, a nonbinary trans actor, too.
According to GLAAD, Morelli and her co-executive producer Alan Poul also stacked the writers room with an all-queer staff comprised of Andy Parker, Patricia Resnick, Marcus Gardley, Jen Silverman, Hansol Jung, and Thomas Page McBee. Silas Howard, Sydney Freeland, Stacie Passon, and Kyle Alvarez are among the queer directors who step up to helm the first ten episodes.
After PBS abruptly canceled the 1994 miniseries, Showtime linked up with Channel 4 to adapt two of the sequel novels, reinstating much of the original cast. More Tales of the City, a six-episode limited series, aired in 1998, while Further Tales of the City aired in 2001. The PBS miniseries was nominated for two Emmys and Peabody Award, More Tales snagged five Emmy noms, and Further Tales earned one more Emmy nomination.
The original series also drew conservative backlash for its graphic and, at the time, unheard of depictions of queer sex. Local PBS affiliates in Tennessee and Georgia even refused to broadcast the series, according to Entertainment Weekly. A much different cultural climate will probably mean a warmer reception for Netflix's Tales of the City, but the original is vastly under-appreciated and still worth checking out. The revival, however, is now streaming on Netflix.