Thanks in part to inexpensive reality shows, new television series are having a hard time making it past a single season. Taking the time to sit down and really get involved with new characters seems futile, when the likely end result will be cancellation and disappointment. It's amazing when shows that began ten to fifteen years ago - and ran a commendable five to seven seasons - come out on DVD because it's a reminder of what might be lost on today's audience. A great example of that is recently released "Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season." As I took another look at the series on DVD, I can't help but wish for a return to the '90's, when television was, well, good.
"Spin City" was a sitcom that took place in city hall. While the environment would seem more suited to a cop drama, "Spin" managed to get a remarkable amount of laughs thanks to solid writing and a terrific cast. "Spin City" isn't really a show about politics, instead it was a platform to collect a group of individuals that were often at odds, creating funny, standard sitcom situations. What made it work as well as it did was the consistent writing and witty performances.
When "Spin City" first aired, Michael J. Fox did a fantastic job leading the show as deputy mayor, Mike Flaherty. His job - as well as the rest of the staff's - was to keep the Mayor (Barry Bostwick) from drawing any negative attention to his somewhat dim-witted behavior. The series did a great job focusing on a different storyline each week, giving the staff something to take care of, and often Flaherty to help save the day. While not as memorable as same-era sitcom, "News Radio," there's a similarity in the way the group dynamics play off one another, creating a handful of humorous situations from week to week.
By the 4th season, Fox decided it was time to leave the series, and the creators decided to carry on with a new lead character. Interestingly enough, the replacement for Fox was Charlie Sheen (who was recently replaced after he left the series, "Two and a Half Men.") Ratings suffered in the fifth season without Fox's character, and Sheen - especially in retrospect - seems like too significant a change in comedic tone at the core of the show. Staffers that continued on to season five included press secretary Paul (Richard Kind), head of minority affairs Carter (Michael Boatman), chief of staff Stuart (Alan Ruck), and season four addition, campaign manager Caitlin (Heather Locklear). Charlie Sheen played the new deputy mayor, Charlie Crawford who had a different approach to dealing with the Mayor and office staff. Unlike Flaherty, Crawford is a bit egotistical, which doesn't always go over well with his new co-workers, mainly Caitlin. Still, despite some character differences, the show basically stays the same course.
The thirty minute episodes focus on things like Caitlin trying to improve her personality when a blind man finds her unappealing ("Blind Faith"), Stuart, Carter and Paul all compete to get to go on a trip with the mayor to New Orleans ("Lost and Found"), the Mayor's ego is deflated when Charlie plays him in a game of racquetball and wins ("All the Wrong Moves"), when the Mayor's ratings go down, Caitlin hires an image consultant that leads to interesting results ("The Image Maker"). While there's nothing necessarily new to the plots, the actors do help carry the series with the same energy and delivery as previous seasons. Sheen wasn't a perfect choice to replace Fox and the shift in tone leads to a series that isn't as satisfying or quite the same. However, it's certainly not bad and still delivers a good deal of laughs.
With no extra features, "Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season" is recommended for fans of the series who want to add to their collection. For those unfamiliar with the series, I recommend starting with the earlier season and working your way through them to the fifth. It's a series that's certainly worth a look for the memorable performances, humorous situations, and if anything else, it's a reminder of what television used to be: consistent entertainment.
5-01 18/Oct/00 Hello Charlie
5-02 25/Oct/00 Smile
5-03 01/Nov/00 The Spanish Prisoner
5-04 08/Nov/00 The Bone Collectors
5-05 15/Nov/00 Blind Faith
5-06 22/Nov/00 Balloons over Broadway
5-07 29/Nov/00 Lost and Found
5-08 06/Dec/00 All the Wrong Moves
5-09 13/Dec/00 The Burgers of Wrath
5-10 20/Dec/00 Toy Story
5-11 10/Jan/01 The Perfect Dorm
5-12 17/Jan/01 Hey Judith
5-13 24/Jan/01 The Gambler
5-14 07/Feb/01 In the Company of Dudes
5-15 14/Feb/01 The Image Maker
5-16 21/Feb/01 Trainstopping
5-17 28/Feb/01 Rain on My Charades
5-18 25/Apr/01 You've Got Male
5-19 02/May/01 Minor League
5-20 09/May/01 Science Friction
5-21 16/May/01 Brotherly Love
5-22 23/May/01 A Shot in the Dark (part 1)
5-23 23/May/01 A Shot in the Dark (part 2)
VIDEO: Shout Factory gives the show a very nice presentation. Offered in 1.33:1 full-frame, the series looks bright and crisp. While not crystal clear, the series looks about broadcast level. Colors look warm and crisp, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: Clean, well-recorded stereo soundtrack, with clear dialogue.
There are no extra features.
Final Thoughts: "Spin City" starts to lose altitude in the fifth season with the departure of Fox, but so-so "Spin City" is still better than most of what's on TV today. Recommended, although those new to the series should certainly start off with the first season.