Hollywood history is packed with book-to-film adaptations that warp their source material beyond recognition, forcing creative storylines into pallid, palatable, conventional forms. Far rarer are the adaptations that do their source material justice, bringing books to life while leaving their spirits intact. But perhaps rarest of all are accurate-but-passionless adaptations like Showtime's take on Armistead Maupin's Further Tales Of The City, which lays out Maupin's tangled storylines serviceably, even dutifully, without breaking a sweat or provoking a chuckle. The six Tales Of The City books began life as more than a decade's worth of serialized installments in The San Francisco Chronicle; in daily 800-word installments, Maupin fed a dedicated, ever-expanding fan base the story of a homey apartment complex where a motherly transsexual landlord (Olympia Dukakis) disbursed pot brownies and joints among her troubled tenants, nursing them through personal crises and love affairs gone wrong. The central characters, an ambitious, naïve TV personality (Laura Linney) and her best friend, a cheery gay landscaper with a horrible perm (Paul Hopkins), are off in radically different directions in this adaptation of the third book in the series. Hopkins, having broken up with the love of his life, philosophically explores San Francisco's meat markets and glory holes, and stands in for Maupin in a roman à clef sequence that mirrors Maupin's actual affair with closeted film star Rock Hudson. Linney, meanwhile, deals with a far more elaborate and soap-opera-friendly plot, as she becomes the PR flack to a neurotic acquaintance (Diana Leblanc) whose strung-out-looking lesbian socialist daughter (Barbara Garrick), thought dead at Jonestown, has returned to America. The plot gets thick and frothy, as real-world cult leader Jim Jones returns from the dead to menace Garrick's twin children, and coincidences, subplots, and road trips abound. It's all just as Maupin wrote it: touching, sometimes silly, sometimes unbelievable, and all destined for a happy ending. But that ending seems foreordained from about 10 minutes in. Director Pierre Gang, who also handled the previous series installment, More Tales Of The City, presents San Francisco as a sunny, comfortable place where everyone smiles most of the time, possibly because sex is rarely further than a wink and a nod away. Linney in particular is so fresh and perky that even her fights with her commitment-minded boyfriend (Whip Hubley) seem amiable at worst, while Hopkins has little to do besides grin through one sexual encounter after another. Further Tales makes a vague attempt to up the dramatic ante by placing Garrick's saccharine kids in peril, but even that subplot is ill-defined and quickly resolved. Fans of Maupin's friendly, uplifting tales are likely not looking for high drama and revelatory performances in Showtime's three-hour Further Tales miniseries; they're most likely looking for the comfort of the familiar, portrayed by actors who jibe reasonably well with Maupin's descriptions. Sure enough, Further Tales has comfort and familiarity in veritable heaps. But rarely have rampaging cult leaders and full-frontal male nudity seemed so mild, unassuming, and soporific.
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