Friday, June 8, 2012

Better Than The First Season, Spin City's Abandoned Concept Works Well In Season Two!

The Good: Funny, Decent character development, Moments of acting
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Some predictability
The Basics: One of the funnier seasons of Spin City, The Complete Second Season drops on DVD as a strong ensemble comedy worth anyone's time and attention.

Sometimes, the benefit of DVD can be to see the effect a program has on the viewer as opposed to the objective quality of the series. So, for example, in the case of Spin City, I loved it when it first aired and because I do not have cable and it was never locally syndicated, when I would find myself traveling in strange cities and turn the television on on Sunday mornings, I would be thrilled to find episodes of Spin City there for me to enjoy again. When Spin City finally hit DVD with the complete first season (reviewed here!) was was once again reminded of the sense of betrayal I felt back in the day when the show first aired and the original concept - being Mike Flaherty juggling his job as deputy mayor of New York City with being in a long-term stable relationship with a member of the press - was abandoned.

With Spin City The Complete Second Season on DVD, that sense of betrayal is gone; the show is headed in a different direction and as a result, it recovers well from my justified gripe with it. Instead of struggling with the conflict between personal and professional, Mike Flaherty becomes a sexy deputy mayor who is looking for love outside the office and struggling to keep his staff from jeopardizing the political future of the mayor of New York City! This season is more consistently funny and utilizes the whole cast better than the first season did. As a result, it is much easier to recommend and leaves the viewer with much less to complain about!

With the Mayor and Paul A.W.O.L. in Miami, Mike rushes to recover them both before their absence is noticed. Succeeding with that, Mike works to keep Paul out of an insane asylum when he has a nervous breakdown. As he struggles to hold the staff together and negotiate the terms of the Mayor's divorce, Mike begins to fall in love with the opposing counsel, Laurie. As Laurie befriends the staff and sends Mike for a loop by revealing she is not looking for commitment, Paul reunites with Claudia, the Mayor gets caught on camera buying porn and a new assistant for Mike is hired.

As Stacey adapts to life in the mayor's office, Nikki goes through more men, James gets a new hobby and Carter and Stuart spar constantly. But Stuart is promoted, putting him in a job where his sarcasm is unwelcome and likely to get him fired. When a crime spree hits New York City, Carter deals with ethnic issues and he and Stuart are pushed together into a living arrangement neither one is comfortable with, but both need.

The second season of Spin City is a welcome addition to anyone's DVD collection and no one will miss anything from not having the first season with it. The second season is more politically sharp, dealing with issues like racism, crime and pornography. As well, the show explores more personal issues like emotional abandonment, commitment and the search for love. There are outrageous episodes like "Radio Daze," where Mike's competitive nature gets the mayor into hot water by forcing a mock-election with a radio personality and "Bye, Bye, Birdie" wherein a night of bachelor and bachelorette parties goes horribly awry when Carter, Mike and James end up stuck in a hardware store while it is being robbed.

But perhaps the best reason to pick up the second season is "In The Heat Of The Day." Like the first season's "Grand Illusion" - wherein Carter and Nikki stage a wedding to protest the anti-gay marriage stance of the Mayor's office - "In The Heat Of The Day" is a great combination of a character study and a political commentary. Carter, running to lose weight as part of the Mayor's fitness initiative, is apprehended by the police because there is a black suspect supposedly fleeing a crime scene nearby. Mike wants to keep the issue from the press, but Carter is understandably angered by the event and its repercussions. The episode works because it explores the issue from every possible angle and Spin City dares to do what few other programs do: it allows the secondary cast to shine. Michael J. Fox has a peripheral role in "In The Heat Of The Day" and accomplished actor Michael Boatman is able to carry virtually every scene of the program.

As a result, despite the emphasis on Mike Flaherty, the second season of Spin City comes across as more of an ensemble work. Like all great character-driven comedies, the characters - not the jokes - move the series forward. Here is how the second season finds the principle characters:

Mike Flaherty - Dating Laurie, a lawyer, until she leaves, Mike juggles women on his birthday and New Year's, until he and Nikki hook up on New Year's Eve unwittingly. As Mike tries to help the Mayor and Paul with their love lives, he tries to keep Stuart and Carter from destroying New York City with their ridiculous antics. He keeps the Mayor proud and positive by doing such things like competing against a disc jockey for the hearts and minds of New York City's citizens,

Paul Lassiter - After being declared mentally incompetent, he is sprung and given more power around the office. When Carter is incarcerated, he fears he might be a racist and he is reunited with Claudia, who he gets on the fast track to marry,

Stuart - The conniving deputy to Mike, he and Carter spar more often until the time comes when they open a gay bar together, lose everything in the process and are forced to move in with one another. He immediately takes to hitting on Stacey,

Carter - Furious over being detained for simply being a black man running, he once again becomes politically active. Against his better judgment, he opens a bar with Stuart and after one fabulous night, loses everything. He takes in Stuart and tries to come out to his old priest,

Nikki - After dating a string of losers, she and Mike more or less end up together at the New Year's party, which complicates their working relationship. Along with Stacey and Janel harasses a water delivery man,

James - The brunt of many of the office jokes, he lusts after Paul's hot mother, but otherwise is a background player in events like the holdup during the bachelor party,

Janel - Also a placeholder, her high point comes when she competes for the affections of the water delivery man with the other office women,

Stacey Paterno - Mike's new assistant, she is a straight-talking, feisty woman who immediately takes to fighting with Stuart. She arranges for Stuart to get his comeuppance when Stuart uses a rumor about his sexuality to score with the office women,

and The Mayor - Single and free, he witlessly runs the City with Mike at his side. He buys porn, has an affair with Mike's mom and outs Santa Claus to the children of New York City. He begins working on his memoirs and as re-election nears develops a stuttering problem.

Spin City uses its cast fairly well, including Barry Bostwick and Connie Britton in the supporting roles of the Mayor and Nikki. Richard Kind continues his role as the witless press secretary, Paul and this season he has some moments when he plays his character's idiocy with style and enduring humor. Michael Boatman and Alan Ruck, in this season are paired up more and more to play off one another with "Odd Couple" chemistry as Carter and Stuart, respectively. As the season progresses, they become the ones to watch.

But largely, this remains a Michael J. Fox vehicle and he is brilliant and energetic as Mike Flaherty. He plays off Paula Marshall (Laurie), Meridith Baxter and his real-life wife Tracy Pollan perfectly and he has great on-screen chemistry (of different sorts) with each. In this season, Fox hones his sense of comic timing to deliver lines with a greater sense of irony and enthusiasm than in the first season.

On DVD, the set is light on features, which include a gag reel and featurette on the making of season two. The producers discuss changes made in the cast and the direction of the series and it is entertaining, but fans will be left wanting something more.

Still, it is hard to argue with how good the season turns out. These episodes are highly rewatchable and fun. The characters develop over their experiences and the outcome is a decent season of television that anyone who loves comedy will appreciate.

For other works with Michael J. Fox, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Boston Legal - Season 3
Boston Legal - Season 2
The Back To The Future Trilogy


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all that I have written!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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