Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City, Netflix

Ground-breaking in its day because of its positive depiction of LGBT characters and communities, Channel 4’s adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s series of San Francisco-set novels was also a ratings hit when it aired in the UK in 1993. A quarter century on, Netflix have revived it as a 10-part “mini-series” though that’s hefty enough by British TV standards to count as a full-blown series. And while positive depictions of LGBT life are now the norm thanks to shows such as Queer As Folk, The L Word and Will And Grace, this new iteration of the much-loved show pushes the envelope in other ways. Writer Lauren Morelli, who penned Orange Is The New Black, is gay, as are several of the directors. In front of the camera Oscar-nominated X-Men star Ellen Page, also gay, takes the role of Shawna Hawkins while the character of Jake Rodriguez, a transgender man struggling with his new identity, is played by Josiah Victoria Garcia, a non-binary trans actor.

But was that the sole reason for the revival, to make a series about a nurturing LGBT community using LGBT writers, directors and actors? You’d hope not. But beyond pleasing ardent fans of the books and the initial series by re-uniting the principal characters – this re-boot brings heroine Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) back to the bohemian Barbary Lane home of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) and Brian ‘Mouse’ Tolliver (Murray Bartlett) – it’s hard to see the point.

Sure, Morelli throws in some of the cultural concerns of the late 2010s as they relate to gender and sexuality and that’s welcome, but there’s too much froth and sheen and icky sentimentality to give it any edge. And given the colonisation by nerdy Silicon Valley millionaires of San Francisco’s once bohemian enclaves and the sky-rocketing of rents and property prices as a result, it’s preposterous to think that the Barbary Lane commune could still house people like bar-worker Shawna and plant shop owner Mouse.

The chronology is confusing too. Like the books, the original series was set in 1970s San Francisco, though subsequent series moved forwards into the early 1980s and the era of AIDs and Ronald Regan. In that timeline, Shawna would be in her late 30s by now. As played by Page, she’s only 25 and Mary Ann, who she thinks is her mother, has only been away for 20 years or so.

For those who do remember the original series (or who can be bothered to watch it in All 4, where it’s currently available as a boxset) there is something pleasing about watching Linney and the 87-year-old Dukakis reprise their roles. For the rest of us, there isn’t too much in the way of real life to see here. Move along.