With all of the antics and well, musings of Charlie Sheen, one has to take a moment to realize that he's been doing television sitcoms for a little more than a decade now, but the decision to bring him into the television comedy fold (with Spin City) was curious. Over time though, when one looks back on the show, it should probably be remembered for two different things; the start of one career for a creative television personality and the end of one for another.
Spin City was created by Bill Lawrence, who went on to increase his splash in television with the popular (yet slightly maligned) show Scrubs, with the help of Gary David Goldberg, who helped develop the '80s sitcom Family Ties, and a collaboration with Ties star Michael J. Fox helped cast him as the star of Spin City. Fox plays Michael Flaherty, Deputy Mayor of New York City. Among his staff is Stuart (Alan Ruck, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), the Chief of Staff and is the most abrasive of the bunch, Paul (Michael Boatman, The Peacemaker) is the City's Head of Minority Affairs but also a homosexual (which in mid-'90s network televisions was a...surprise?). Stuart (Alan Ruck, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is the Press Secretary and Nikki (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights) is the accountant, and they all serve at the pleasure of the Mayor Winston (Barry Bostwick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), who seems detached and slightly clueless. This group remained the core of the show , even after Caitlin (Heather Locklear, Melrose Place) was brought in at the beginning of Season Four to help lighten the load of the show Fox had to carry due to his public announcement that he had Parkinson's disease in 1998.
You couldn't tell it from how he started off Season Four, which started off with Mike trying to hammer out what happened after a wild night with Heidi Klum, which might sabotage a relationship he had going with Nikki. And while Caitlin provided an intellectual challenge for him, he couldn't help but eventually become more enamored with her as the season went on, which was a precursor to his early 2000 announcement that his condition was putting him in a position where he could simply not effectively manage his symptoms with even a part-time production schedule, making the fourth season his last. It was a shame too, because with Goldberg helping to shape Lawrence's comedic sensibilities with the cast, Fox was the center of the show much in the same way that Zach Braff helped evolve the similar position in Scrubs. Fox also helped give Mike a comedic anxiety that would seem to be what a grown-up Alex P. Keaton would possess while giving others around him (notably Kind, Boatman and Britton) a chance to develop their arts a bit more.
I remember Keaton's initial announcement about his condition being a shock. Finding out later than he was initially diagnosed with it in 1991 was a stunner, if nothing else because superficially, how many 30 year olds do you know have gotten Parkinson's? It would seem to be a disease that fathers and grandfathers get. But he managed it well and the public disclosure, while shocking, gave Fox a chance to prepare and talk about how it's effected him and what he wanted to do to help bring awareness to it. When he said he wanted to leave, it was less of a shock and more a well-earned celebratory lap around the track.
With the two-part finale (titled "Goodbye") Fox got a chance to go out on his terms. The beginning of the first episode finds Mike talking to a therapist (played almost appropriately enough by Michael Gross, Fox's television father on Ties). It is discovered that Nikki's boyfriend is associated with the mob, and has received favors from the City, be it fishing trips with the mayor, or even valuable labor contracts. That he was a mob figure was unknown to everyone involved, and the scandal could threaten to take down the Mayor. Mike decides to fall on his sword and take the blame for the scandal, and is forced to resign despite the wishes of the Mayor and Mike's staff. What follows in the second part of "Goodbye" is just that, emotional scenes with Mike and his staff, including a bar scene where longtime series director Andy Cadiff manages to capture Britton, Kind and others clearly emotional and not on their acting guard, making for some powerful imagery. With all the emotion, there was something underlying within the story, the scandal (like Fox's condition) caught everyone off-guard, and the inevitable resolution, while undesired was necessary, and both Mike (and Michael J.) had no regrets and looked forward to the next parts of their lives.
It's nice to look back on this phase of Spin City and see that Fox's departure was less of a "goodbye" and more of a "see you later," but the moments in the finale of the show still remain some of the best in recent sitcom memory, and seeing Fox's exit (and Lawrence's emergence) still make Spin City notable in that regard.
Four discs, 26 episodes, all of which broadcast in full frame video. The show looked OK from what I can recall when it first aired on ABC, and there is little to change that perspective on DVD. It looks a little cleaner and the image looks natural without a lot of edge enhancement or haloing. Overall, it looks like a step from the broadcasts and that's a good thing.
Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo for all of the episodes. Honestly, I wasn't expecting more than that, and the music and dialogue are clear and consistent without sounding hollow or tinny, and there is no mosquito noise that can be heard when watching the episodes. Everything sounds straightforward from the shows.
Nothing, not even a commentary on the finale or a dated featurette discussing same. Boo.
I hadn't seen Spin City in awhile but it was nice to stroll down the road with Mike Flaherty and everyone else in the Mayor's office. It was a little hard to do the show with this hanging over the cast, but they handled the fourth season remarkably well. Technically the show looks OK (though the lack of extras is a shame), but if you were going to watch any episodes of the show, Fox's last two are as good a place to start as any.