"Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City" and "Sex and the City" have three things in common.
First, if they were released as theatrical films, they'd definitely be R-rated, given their use of profanity, nudity and their strong sexual content.Second, they are both in the venues where they belong - pay cable. "Tales" is on Showtime and "Sex" is on HBO, which means that you have to make a conscious effort - and pay some extra bucks - to bring this sort of programming into your home.
And, third, both get too carried away with the freedom pay-cable provides. Their use of profanity and nudity often seems more like, "Wow! Look what we can do!" than it seems vital to the scripts.
But the similarities end there. "More Tales of the City" is basically a good-hearted, decidedly offbeat - even goofy - soap opera that winds its way through the ultra-liberated 1970s in ultra-liberal San Francisco.
"Sex in the City," on the other hand, is a dark, outrageously cynical, cold take on the lives of thoroughly unpleasant people living in present-day Manhattan.
"More Tales of the City," of course, is the sequel to 1994's "Tales of the City," which created a considerable amount of controversy when it aired on PBS. The show was critically acclaimed and attracted good ratings for PBS, but was assailed for its characters' various sexual entanglements (particularly those of the same-sex variety), and its matter-of-fact drug use.
(Of course, none of that actually happened in 1970s San Francisco, right?)
"More Tales" is actually less subtle than its predecessor. There's more nudity (including a bit of full-frontal male nudity) and the marijuana smoking continues.
The six-part series (which airs in two 21/2-hour blocks on Sunday and Monday at 10 p.m.) is more than a bit bizarre, what with plotlines about strange religious cults and transexuals and exhibitionism and odd behavior at a Nevada bordello. And there's definitely an agenda to Maupin's work - he preaches love and acceptance of pretty much everyone and everything.
Chances are if "More Tales" is going to offend you, you aren't going to be watching it anyway. Fans of the original "Tales," on the other hand, will want to make an effort to see the sequel.
HBO's "Sex and the City," on the one hand, is probably going to be less controversial than "More Tales" because the sex it deals with is of the man-woman variety. But this series of 12 half-hour episodes is actually much harder to take because it wallows in an ocean of cynicism.
(The first two episodes air back-to-back tonight at 10:45 p.m.)
Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Carrie Bradshaw, a "sexual anthropologist" who writes a sex/dating column for a Manhattan newspaper. She and her bitter, lonely friends (Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon) get together and gossip and whine about the evil men in the world ("toxic bachelors") and discuss their amoral sex lives in great detail.
About the only decent guy in the first couple of episodes - a young man looking for commitment and romance - is mocked and abused.
Most of the men in the series, however, are just as bad as the women think they are. If every guy in Manhattan is as dreadful as these guys, perhaps the women have something to complain about.
The fact that "Sex and the City" comes to us from Darren Star, the man who created "Melrose Place" and the short-lived, unlamented "Central Park West," should come as no surprise. This is "Melrose" with dirty language and nudity.
It's also banality masquerading as insight. The characters have nothing to say, but they think they're oh-so-clever while they're saying it.
What's supposed to be entertainment is wearisome, whiny and annoying.