- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
amily Ties” made Michael J. Fox a TV star, and “Back to the Future” made him a movie star, but the latter career wasn’t quite as long lasting as Fox might’ve hoped. After the “BtoF” trilogy ended, he scored pretty big with “Doc Hollywood,” but after a trifecta of pleasant but slight motion pictures – “Life with Mikey,” “For Love or Money,” and “Greedy” – provided ho-hum box office numbers, it probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone that, in 1996, Fox decided that maybe another TV gig wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
In the case of “Spin City,” it was actually a pretty great idea, since it not only re-teamed Fox with the creator of “Family Ties,” Gary David Goldberg, but also gave viewers a surprisingly good idea of what Alex P. Keaton would’ve been like as a proper adult. Okay, the character of Mike Flaherty wasn’t a precise translation, but he was still a politically-obsessed guy who knew more about how to handle a governmental crisis than a personal predicament, so it was close enough. Plus, Meredith Baxter played his mom on both series. Of course, she didn’t turn up on “Spin City” ‘til Season 2, so we’ll save that discussion for another review.
The pilot episode of “Spin City” does an excellent job of setting up the concept of the series. Mike Flaherty is the Deputy Mayor of New York City, a man who has – and needs – an entire staff to keep the Mayor’s office running smoothly by covering up the various gaffes caused by Hizzoner (Barry Bostwick). There’s Paul Lassiter (Richard Kind), the Mayor’s naïve and clueless press secretary, Stuart Bondeck (Alan Ruck), his politically incorrect chief of staff, James Hobert (Alexander Chaplin), who writes the majority of the Mayor’s spin-centric speeches, and his best accountant, Nikki Faber (Connie Britton). The latest addition to the roster is Carter Heywood (Michael Boatman), a gay man who finds his way onto the Mayor’s staff as Head of Minority affairs when, in response to a reporter asking him if he would be marching in the gay pride parade, the Mayor asks, “What, are you drunk?”
The first half of Season 1 features a consistent love interest for Mike: reporter Ashley Shaffer, played by the unspeakably cute Carla Gugino. The Mike / Ashley saga is a major part of the series during the first 12 episodes, much of it focusing on the inherent difficulties of Mike having to keep political secrets from Ashley, with Ashley struggling not to let her journalistic instincts kick in and make her do something that would jeopardize their relationship. Though it was a shame to see Gugino go (her character was written out as having pursued a job elsewhere), it proved to be a blessing for the ensemble of “Spin City,” which was thereby given the chance to breathe. Richard Kind’s performance as Paul makes him arguably the most memorable character on the series, but Alan Ruck finally managed to escape the albatross of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with the role of Stuart, and though it’s perhaps sexist to say so, you can’t say that the consistent shortness of Connie Britton’s skirts is a bad thing. In the end, Fox might be the most recognizable face of the bunch, but “Spin City” is definitely an ensemble comedy, and it shows where Bill Lawrence honed the comedic chops that he brought to his next series, “Scrubs.”
“Spin City” is far from the most politically realistic sitcom you’ll ever see – the odds of any Mayor surviving as many embarrassing issues in office as Mayor Winston endures are slim to none – nor can you call it groundbreaking, but it’s consistently funny, and it’s good to finally see it on DVD.
Special Features: There are several enjoyable commentaries which team up the producers (Gary David Goldberg with Bill Lawrence) or the cast (Michael Boatman with Alexander Chaplin, Alexander Chaplin with Michael J. Fox), plus a solo one from director Thomas Schlamme. The only commentary that falls somewhat flat is the one with Richard Kind and Alan Ruck, where the actors were clearly not watching it simultaneously. (If they weren’t going to be watching it together, then why not give each actor their own track?) Interesting from a historical perspective is “Prime Time Partners – Michael J. Fox and Gary David Goldberg,” which offers highlights from the 1996 seminar given by The Paley Center for Media on “Spin City,” but the best feature is definitely “The Spin,” where the primary members of the cast and crew contribute new interviews and discuss their experiences on the show.