Much like the equally creatively lauded hit Sports Night-- Spin City was one of those '90s sitcoms I completely missed out on during their initial run. Never one to jump into a series without knowing the complete back-story, including the pilot-- just like I can't watch a film if even a second has played before I walk in-- I was thrilled to learn that the good folks at Shout! Factory were premiering the first entire season of Spin on DVD this November.
Appropriately debuting on election day, Spin City reunites America's beloved Alex P. Keaton-- er, I mean Michael J. Fox-- with his Family Ties creator and executive producer Gary David Goldberg. This time we find him playing a character that seems much looser, fresh and quintessentially Michael J. Fox-like. In other words, instead of a young man masquerading as a grown up, Fox takes on the role of a grown up, whom, due to his career in the realm of politics, must often masquerade as a young man.
Hilarious and sharply written by its talented writers including co-creator Bill Lawrence who in the '00s would craft his own brand of workplace humor with the Peabody award winning hit Scrubs (moving curiously from NBC this year to ABC which also housed Spin), Fox is matched by his many verbal sparring partners in the form of season one cast-mates Carla Gugino, Barry Bostwick, Richard Kind, Alan Ruck, Michael Boatman, Connie Britton, and Alexander Chaplin.
Fittingly starring as Mike, Fox plays the New York City Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty, who, truth be told, seems to be the one running everything-- the mayor behind the mayor, if you will-- pulling the strings and trying to avoid disaster at every turn. Although on the surface Barry Bostwick's Randall Winston is the guy with the title and his face on the evening news, Fox's Mike-- a "human handshake" as one city councilwoman memorably refers to him-- is his constant filter as the well-intentioned but often hopelessly clueless Winston makes faux pas after faux pas, leaving others offended in his wake of unintentional mixed messages and gaffes.
After he replies to an invitation to join in the gay pride parade with the retort, "Are you drunk?" in the pilot, gay activists are rightfully up in arms but Mike cleverly recruits one of its leaders, the successful and brilliant, gay African-American Carter Heywood (Michael Boatman) as head of minority affairs.
While his life at the office leaves little time for his girlfriend Ashley (Carla Gugino), given an instantly unlikable role as the toughest adversarial reporter in the press room who sends the mayor's Press Secretary and frequent scene stealer Paul Lassiter (Richard Kind) into a panicked frenzy, midway through the first season the clunky writing of that subplot was fixed when the otherwise incredibly talented Gugino parted ways with the show.
An overwhelming boys club with one sole major female cast member-- the hilarious, tough talking Nikki (Connie Britton) who unknowingly drives every male coworker around her wild-- the show thrives at its best when it deals with the inter-workings of the office and the countless hurdles the staff needs to jump in any given day.
A terrific example of the show firing on all creative cylinders can be witnessed in this clip in one of the season's funniest offerings "Dog Day Afternoon" which finds Mike scrambling to make up for the mayor's accidental insult towards the law enforcement community by staging a funeral for a heroic police dog... only to have his two staffers, Carter and the sexist Assistant Deputy Mayor Stuart (Alan Ruck) lose the animal on the way.
And while-- much like News Radio and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, we're quick to realize that the dysfunctional group, which also includes the sweet-natured, optimistic speechwriter James (Alexander Chaplin) who's hopelessly in love with Nikki serve as a terrific alternate "family" to the tired slew of endless dysfunctional family programs like the mean-spirited hits Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens, we also realize that, unlike those shows, just how loyal these characters are to one another.
Especially apparent in another season one standout, "Kiss Me, Stupid," which finds everyone's Valentine's Day plans going horribly, horribly wrong as Mike is forced to pretend to be Carter's new boyfriend, Paul sends his girlfriend to the emergency room, and James can't figure out how to make Nikki see him in another light--Spin City offers proof of comedy at its most sophisticated. Likewise, it's no wonder that two of the most successful sitcoms running right now are workplace situation comedies with The Office and 30 Rock, which perhaps tried to sprinkle some of Spin and Radio's fairy dust left over from the heyday of Mary Tyler Moore.
Whatever it is-- if it is some secret recipe-- this Thanksgiving week, I'm thankful to Shout! Factory for preserving the comedic legacy of Michael J. Fox with this superb four disc set that will definitely be getting repeat play in my DVD player. Likewise, I also want to dish out thanks to the one and only, Fox, who I grew up watching and was thrilled to revisit once again over the course of this first installment of Spin City.