Created by: Gary David Goldberg, Bill Lawrence
Starring: Michael J Fox, Carla Gugino, Richard Kind, Alan Ruck, Michael Boatman, Connie Britton, Alexander Chaplin, Barry Bostwick
Here’s the whole first season of the show that brought Michael J Fox back to TV. The political sitcom Spin City shows the day to day workings of the Deputy Mayors office of New York City.
You’ve got the jerk, Alan Ruck’s Stuart Bondeck, the idiot, Paul Lassiter played by Richard Kind, the fresh faced mid-western kid, Alexander Chaplin’s James Hobart, the lovelorn beauty, Nikki Faber played by Connie Britton, and the gay guy Michael Boatman’s Carter Heywood; one big dysfunctional family of stereotypes that is the deputy Mayor’s office of New York City. The jerk, the idiot, the beauty, and the naïve Midwestern kid are all part of the patriarch’s, his honor the Mayor Randall M Winston’s, Jr. played by Barry Bostwick, new administration. The day to day aspects of which are handled by the Deputy Mayor Michael Flaherty played by the singular Michael J Fox. To spice things up a little bit Michael happens to be dating an aggressive reporter, Carla Gugino’s Ashley Schaeffer, who in spite of their relationship enjoys nothing more than embarrassing the Mayor and his office.
The pilot starts out with the new administration of Mayor Randall M. Winston, Jr. dealing with their first real crisis, a strike by the sanitation union. As the trash piles up in the city the Mayor manages to add another complication for his staff to handle when he makes an offhand comment that manages to outrage the gay community. To mollify the gay community Carter Heywood the activist that is doing the most damage to the administration is brought on board as a minority community liaison. One problem solved. Next up, it turns out that Michael’s girlfriend has moved in with him without him noticing and now she has given up the lease on her old apartment making the whole thing rather more official than Michael is ready to deal with. This problem is not quite as easily resolved, but in typical sitcom fashion it gets wrapped up in the allotted thirty minutes or since this is the DVD and there are no commercials, twenty minutes. In not so typical sitcom fashion the sanitation workers strike doesn’t get resolved for several more episodes.
Of course the story is played out in a much wittier and more entertaining fashion than these few words but from the first few episodes the die is pretty well cast for the show. Girlfriends and boyfriends may come and go, issues may get resolved in one episode or they may arc over several, but each episode stands easily enough on its own if you would rather take it in small doses than all at once. Like most sitcoms the characters start out as stereotypes, I guess a kinder word would be archetype, but with this cast the characters start to take on new dimensions as soon as they get a little camera time. The humor is fast paced and clever a little heavy on the innuendo maybe but never vulgar. I’m never a good judge at this sort of thing but I imagine some of the storylines and gags were quite racy for the mid nineties but then again those were the days that stained blue dresses and exactly what is considered sex was nightly news. The writers aren’t afraid to throw a little drama into the mix as well. It’s used sparingly but it packs a wallop.
Most shows kind of meander for a several episodes or even a season or two if they last that long before they really hit their stride. Spin City is an exception to the rule. It’s strong right off the bat. After a pilot there are often adjustments made before the next episode, characters tweaked, actors switched, but not this time. The pilot plunges straight into the lives of these people and then we just learn a little bit more about them in each episode. Another thing I loved about Spin City is that for a show about politics the show is amazingly apolitical. There are a few plot lines that turn on some issue or hot button, but they are usually dealt with in more of a “how is the Mayor going to deal with this” way than a “this is right and this is wrong” way. After the watching the whole season and going back to the other episodes I’ve seen of the show I would be afraid to hazard a guess on the whether Randall Winston is a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.
The video is presented in full screen format. It looks good for a ten year old TV show. I guess part of it is that it’s not shot like a typical sitcom. It’s filmed on a set, but it’s a large set and the camera moves around in it. It’s lit more realistic than your normal sitcom. If a character is sitting by a window sunlight will appear to be shining in. Beyond that the transfer is excellent as well. I never noticed any moiré. There is a little bit of aliasing but no more than is typical. The colors look great though Richard Kind’s skin tones sometimes seemed a little splotchy or just off, but as I never noticed any problems with anybody else I guess it was just an issue with his makeup.
The audio is presented in Dolby Stereo. The levels are well balanced with the dialog always clear and crisp. I never noticed any distortion or any other defects that would take away from the enjoyment of the DVDs.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The four DVDs come packaged in two clear slim Amaray DVD cases. These two cases then fit into a cardboard slipcase, the whole package taking up the space of a single regular DVD case. The artwork is very nice and takes advantage of the clear DVD cases to display a single large image on the inside of the case. The artwork is carried onto the actual DVDs as well. The whole package is aesthetically very pleasing. There are commentaries from the shows creators and the actors on several episodes. Even I would not expect a commentary on all twenty three episodes (but I can always dream). There are also a couple of featurettes, one contains interviews with the creators and the cast about how the show came to be and one about the Michael J Fox Foundation.
I always enjoyed Spin City if not quite enough to catch it during the original run, but it’s really interesting to watch it all from the beginning, in order and back to back like the DVD release allows. Even though it’s now over ten years old it still feels fresh, until you notice the Twin Towers in the show’s manhole cover logo or see a glimpse of them in the background during an exterior shot and realize that sometimes ten years can be a very long time ago.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10