Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City
Developed by Lauren Morelli
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
Just when you thought his last book had finally closed the chapter, Armistead Maupin’s iconic cast of characters is back for a ten-episode final goodbye. Ten episodes of bliss and many tears. It’s a goodbye that I, and many others, sorely needed. Maupin’s books, which got their start as a column for a San Francisco newspaper, and the subsequent miniseries based on them have become cultural touchstones for the LGBTQ community. To say that they, and their creator, are beloved would be an understatement. Past cast members Laura Linney, Paul Gross, Olympia Dukakis, and Barbara Garrick reprise their previous roles in the masterful retelling of Maupin’s final novels. Also saying goodbye is a host of new talent playing characters familiar to those who’ve followed the novel series to its conclusion. Maupin’s most pronounced skill has been documenting the gay community of the seventies and eighties as it evolved into the LGBTQ community we see today. On the new Netflix series, there is a rainbow of characters representing all in our community regardless of color, gender expression, sexuality, or age. The plot doesn’t always cleave closely to that of the novels, but it does what it needs to do and reflects Maupin’s vision fully.
As the author’s books always have, this piece reflects the modern-day issues facing those who are living with HIV. This is done through the returning character of Michael Tolliver—played beautifully by the actor Murray Bartlett. Michael and his much younger boyfriend are dealing with the current realties of PrEP and U=U and grappling with the idea of having sex without a condom for the first time. In a particularly moving scene, Michael’s boyfriend unearths an old address book of his partner’s that has red lines through half of the names. It’s a touching moment familiar to many, and we start to really understand what his partner went through during the height of the crisis and why he’s still reticent about going condomless—despite the current science. This new version of a familiar story delivers many touching moments, moments that touch our lives as these works have for so long. It’s a fitting tribute to Maupin’s work and beautifully brings a chapter in so many of our lives to a close.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.