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Spin City: The Complete First Season DVD Review

Spin City: The Complete First Season

November 20, 2008

Director: Thomas Schlamme, Lee Shallat Chemel,
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Carla Gugino, Richard Kind, Alan Ruck, Michael Boatman, Connie Britton, Alexander Chaplin, Barry Bostwick,

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DVD Review

Before he had critical and commercial success with the Scrubs television program, Bill Lawrence co-created Spin City with Gary David Goldberg, himself no stranger to producing a hit T.V. series with the huge triumph that was Family Ties. Spin City saw Goldberg reunited with Michael J. Fox, the breakout star from Family Ties. The popular actor spent several years developing a lucrative film career before returning to the medium that put him on the map in the first place in 1996.

Fox plays Deputy Mayor Michael Flaherty, the affable administrator who runs the busy Mayor’s New York City office and deals with its eccentric staff: the neurotic press secretary Paul Lassiter (Kind), earnest speech writer James Hobert (Chaplin), Mike’s saucy assistant Nikki Faber (Britton), the sarcastic smart-ass assistant deputy mayor Stuart Bondek (Ruck), the recent hire Carter Heywood (Boatman), brought on board to provide a visible link to the gay community, and Mayor Randall Winston (Bostwick), the slightly befuddled father figure of this loose-knit family. Ashley Schaeffer (Gugino) is Mike’s girlfriend and a journalist whose beat is City Hall.

The pilot episode sets a brisk, busy tone as Mike deals with a sanitation strike, the Mayor’s accidental gay slur, and Ashley pressuring him to move in together. An early stand-out episode is “The Competition,” featuring a Thanksgiving competition between the Mayor’s office and the City Council over who can cook more meals for the homeless. A then-unknown Stephen Colbert plays Paul’s equal in the City Council and once scene features the two men trying to out-scene-steal each other. A young, equally unknown Jennifer Garner plays James’ girlfriend of seven years with whom he’s trying to break up with.

By the first episode that aired in 1997, “Bye Bye Love,” Ashley and Mike had broken up because actress Carla Gugino wanted to leave, or her character was written out of the show so that Mike could be single thereby leaving the door open for more possibilities – depending on what you believe. Gugino had fantastic chemistry with Fox and her departure was a blow that the show easily survived but her engaging presence and sexy girl-next-door vibe was sorely missed.

Richard Kind was the show’s secret weapon, stealing so many scenes in every episode. He cornered the market on being in a constant state of scared, flop-sweat desperation and one of the joys watching him on Spin City was how he dealt with every problem that came his way. On “Deaf Becomes Her,” Paul is injured in a skateboarding mishap and has to deal with his girlfriend who moves in to nurse him back to health. This gives Kind to not only demonstrate his excellent comic timing but also his knack for physical comedy as he tries to move around with a cast on his leg.

Watching Spin City now, it is a telling reminder of how awful T.V. is now and the lack of decent sitcoms. Fortunately, Lawrence’s Scrubs is still running and 30 Rock is pretty funny but reality programming dominates – a trend that will hopefully go away. Fans of Spin City are in for a real treat with this box set that revisits one of the better sitcoms of the 1990s.

Special Features:

Disc One starts off with an audio commentary on the Pilot episode by creators Gary David Goldberg and Bill Lawrence. They talk about how they pitched the show to Michael J. Fox. Lawrence credits Goldberg with teaching him everything he knows about T.V. They also talk a lot about how the episode was made and the challenges they faced, including initial resistance from the network.

There is an additional commentary on the episode by its director Thomas Schlamme. He starts off by talking about how he got the job and his approach to the style and look of this episode. He provides fascinating insight into how to direct a 30 minute sitcom.

There is a commentary on “Pride and Prejudice” by actors Michael Boatman and Alexander Chaplin. They address the dynamic between Mike’s life at the office and his love life with Ashley and how the emphasis shifted to the work scenes because of the successful comedic repartee between the cast.

“Prime-Time Partners” features highlights from the October 1996 Seminar at the Paley Center for Media with Goldberg and Fox talking about their work together on Family Ties and Spin City. The two men talk about the genesis of Spin City. Fox speaks about what motivated him to return to T.V. They are both engaging and entertaining in this wonderful featurette.

“Team Fox” is a mini-profile of a charity organization that raises awareness and money for Parkinson’s Disease.

Disc Two starts off with an audio commentary on “Dog Day Afternoon” by Chaplin and Fox. They reminisce about working on this episode and praise their fellow cast members. It quickly becomes obvious that they still have fond memories of working on the show. This is a fun, chatty track.

Disc Three includes a commentary on “Gabby’s Song” by actors Alan Ruck and Richard Kind. They tend to spend a little too much time watching the episode with Kind acting as a fountain of trivia. Ruck offers the occasional observation but not much.

Also included is a commentary on “Kiss Me, Stupid” by Boatman and Chaplin. Boatman tends to dominate the track and praises Chaplin often. They also speak highly of Fox and episode guest star Luke Perry.

Disc Four starts off with “The Spin: Making Spin City,” a retrospective look at how the show came together with the main cast members returning for new interviews. Creators Goldberg and Lawrence talk about how they met and came up with the idea for the show. They recount writing the script for the Pilot episode and then pitching it to Fox. The show was set in New York and it was important to everyone involved that the city seems almost like another character. This is an excellent look at how the show came together as told by the people who worked on it.

Finally, there is an audio commentary on “Hot in the City” by Chaplin and Fox. The two actors banter back and forth like old friends. They talk about the show in relation to the state of current T.V. and the glut of reality programming.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 80%

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