When Laura Linney agreed to reprise the role of prudish protagonist Mary Ann Singleton in a new “Tales of the City” based on Armistead Maupin’s famed San Francisco-set books, it wasn’t for nostalgia’s sake.
The Oscar-nominated “You Can Count on Me” “Kinsey” and “The Savages” actress would only sign on to star in “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City,” a 10-episode Netflix series beginning this week, if the project moved the socio-political needle forward.
“It’s set in the present day when we’re in a new crossroads of culture,” says Linney, who also executive produces. “The world is more complicated with a different view of sexuality, gender and politics, so it’s important to talk about these issues.”
Linney’s Mary Ann must come to terms with some of them, herself, upon returning to her old apartment building at the fictional 28 Barbary Lane, in Russian Hill, for her former landlord Anna Madrigal’s (Olympia Dukakis) 90th birthday party.
It’s two decades after she left her daughter Shawna (Ellen Page) and ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross) to pursue a television career on the East Coast and The City’s cultural landscape has completely changed.
If the original 1993 “Tales of the City” mini-series on PBS and subsequent “More Tales of the City” and “Further Tales of the City,” which aired on Showtime in 1998 and 2001, respectively, addressed the extreme homophobia and devastating AIDS crisis of yesteryear, the new episodes tackle today’s hot-button issues like gender politics and transphobia.
In one particularly powerful scene, Mary Ann’s gay best friend Michael “Mouse” Tolliver takes his younger biracial boyfriend, Ben (Charlie Barnett), to an A-gay dinner party, and watches helplessly as his lover argues with his older, more privileged friends after one of the one percenters uses the politically incorrect term, “tranny.”
When Ben corrects the offender, he is attacked by the rest, who collectively believe that in fighting for gay liberation and surviving the AIDS crisis and thereby paving the way for younger members of the LGBTQ community, they’ve earned the right to speak as they please.
Linney hopes scenes like this one will open the door to much-needed dialogue and understanding in homes across the country.
“That scene, to me, encapsulates why we do it now,” Linney says. “It’s one generation to the next and what do you learn from the generation behind you that will help you move forward and not be stuck in the past? What does the older generation have to realize to understand that it’s a different time and you just have to catch up to it?”
IF YOU WATCH
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City
When: June 7