Despite being a ratings success and running for six seasons, Spin City was neglected by the DVD format until Shout Factory stepped in. Although it received two “best of” style collections via Paramount/Dreamworks, the sales apparently weren’t strong enough for Paramount Home Video to pursue full season sets. Thankfully Shout Factory came to the rescue (as they have in the past) and picked up the slack, releasing the entire first season in a four disc set with all-new commentaries, interviews and featurettes.
Mike Flaherty (Michael J. Fox) runs the city with the help of his oddball staff: an anxious and insecure press secretary (Richard Kind, Mad About You); a sexist, boorish chief of staff (Alan Ruck, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off); an impeccably groomed gay activist running minority affairs (Michael Boatman, Arliss); a sharp and efficient, man-crazy accountant ()Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights); and an idealistic young speechwriter (Alexander Chaplin). Like Mike, they are all professionally capable but personally challenged. Spin City was an immediate hit when it debuted in 1996. The series reunited Fox with Family Ties executive producer and creator Gary David Goldberg and proved that the magic of their creative partnership was enduring.
I was never an avid watcher of Spin City, though I do recall tuning in more frequently during the Heather Locklear years, as it seemed to pick up in promotions on the network at that point. It may have also been due me being out of the age bracket at the time and I often found the jokes flying right over my head. It’s definitely not an all-ages show; not just due to its dialogue and content but you genuinely have to be of a certain maturity to enjoy it fully. Now that I’m in the series range (at least in age, I’m not sure about the maturity element), I was able to sit down and watch this first season to see just how entertaining it is.
Although this set contains episodes from twelve years ago, it’s surprising just how relevant today issues in this pilot still are. The pilot itself focuses on a homophobic sounding remark that the mayor made off-handedly on television. The rest of the season follows similar flubs and the general atmosphere around the makeshift City Hall building is also one of urgency and intensity. This causes the humor to fly at incredibly fast paces and it’s this that keeps it so highly enjoyable to watch from episode to episode. I am genuinely surprised that such a show came from 1996, simply because it’s written in such a brilliant way that it remains fresh feeling to this day. Although there are some dated visuals to see, in all the series feels as new now as it did in 1996.
There’s also something highly enjoyable about seeing Michael J. Fox in a leading role again. I’ve always been a fan of his since I was young and it disappointed me when this show came out that, while the audience track was laughing away at the material, I had no real clue of what was going on. Sure, I laughed anyway, but never enough to keep my attention. I guess I just wanted him to make jokes like in Back to the Future (hey, I was only nine when this series premiered, cut me some slack). It was a real treat to see this series again and I’m rather surprised it hasn’t ended up in syndication somewhere yet (perhaps it’s a little too edgy for the likes of TV Land—although they air Cheers already, so how much worse can this show really be?).
Overall Spin City is a smartly acted and tightly written series that remains as entertaining today as it did during its original broadcast. It’s really the actors in this series that keeps it so delightful to watch, with each one adding something to the table, no matter how minute their part. Highly Recommended.
Shout Factory has encased two thin-paks (each housing two discs) inside a simple cardboard slipcase, with a booklet inside containing show information as well as disc breakdowns and episode summaries. Menus for each disc are simple and easy to navigate, while video comes in a standard 480i interlaced transfer. I supposed a progressive one is a bit much to ask for, but as is the picture quality here is pretty nice; there is some compression to deal with here and there, but for the most part it’s a solid picture from start to finish. The audio, a standard Dolby 2.0 track, is what you’d expect from a television show in terms of range and depth. There are no drops in quality or difficult to hear dialogue at any point in the set—it all looks and sounds better than the original broadcast (as best as my nine year old brain can remember, anyway).
While we usually receive barebones releases of these classic television shows, Shout Factory really put a solid effort into this release, making it not only worth picking up for the first season itself but to also check out the newly recorded extras for this set. There’s a whole host of goodies to check out on this set, notably the six cherry picked episodes that contain commentaries. The commentaries and their participants are as follows:
“Pilot”: with Gary David Goldberg and Bill Lawrence; second commentary with Thomas Schlamme
“Pride and Prejudice” with Michael Boatman and Alexander Chaplin
“Dog Day Afternoon” with Michael J Fox and Alexander Chaplin
“Gabby’s Song” with Richard Kind and Alan Ruck
“Kiss Me Stupid” with Michael Boatman and Alexander Chaplin
“Hot in the City” with Michael J Fox and Alexander Chaplin
Each one of the commentaries is a delight to listen to and I’m especially thankful that we get to hear from Michael J. Fox on two of the tracks. The previous “best of” releases from Paramount contained short openings for each episode with Fox as he talked about why he chose the specific episodes, and it was clear he had a lot of love for the show (sadly those intros aren’t repeated on this set). All of the tracks are worth listening to and are an especial treat if you’re a fan of the show and have been waiting awhile for this to land on DVD.
The remaining two extras include “The Spin”, a thirty-five minute documentary that features new interviews with cast members Michael J. Fox, Barry Bostwick, Richard Kind, Alan Ruck, Michael Boatman, Connie Britton, and Alexander Chaplin and show creator’s Gary David Goldberg and Bill Lawerence. This is a great retrospective piece on the making of the series and getting to hear from all of the key players involved in its production makes for some very interesting times. The final extra is “Prime Time Partners”, a highlight reel of The Paley Center for Media Seminar presented in 1996, which runs about thirty minutes.
Overall this is a great set and one fans will no doubt enjoy. The newly recorded commentaries and bonus footage is a huge boon for those who have been waiting patiently for the shows release. Be sure to pick up this set—it contains twenty-four episodes plus some very nice bonus content and available on Amazon for less than $30 as of this writing, this set will make a great stocking stuffer come this holiday season. Recommended.
Spin City: The Complete First Season is now available on DVD.