On the face of it, the ABC sitcom Spin City is breathtakingly cynical: The "spin" of the title refers to deputy mayor Michael J. Fox and his team of political operatives, who labor every day on spit-shined policies and clever obfuscations, all to prop up a spectacularly dim-witted mayor. What's more, the administration is literally in bed with the press, as Fox sleeps with sexy beat reporter Carla Gugino (who left after 12 episodes) and no one from either corner bats an eye, save for the episodes when the flagrant conflict of interest causes some friction. It's all one big circle-jerk, orchestrated by a bullshit maestro clearly modeled after George Stephanopoulos (who makes a late-season cameo). Yet for all the show's upfront edginess, it's still a by-the-numbers network sitcom—sometimes clever, mostly toothless, and written to stuff the greedy maw of a canned laugh track.
After carving out a pretty good career in movies, Fox was coaxed back to television by co-creator Gary David Goldberg, who made Fox's career by casting him as Alex P. Keaton in the long-running sitcom Family Ties. The concept was simple: Fox would play Alex P. Keaton all grown up and maybe slightly more progressive, though still an incorrigible slickster. Goldberg and co-creator Bill Lawrence were also smart enough to surround Fox with a capable supporting cast, including Barry Bostwick as the mayor, Alan Ruck as Fox's fiercely competitive number two, Richard Kind as the clueless press secretary, and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) as a frisky double-entendre factory. The thing that's both appealing and neutering about the show is that they're all likeable, even when they're shoveling manure by the stable-full.
Spin City's first season—finally available on a four-disc, 24-episode set—contemporizes the Family Ties formula by going heavier on the gags and lighter on the lesson-learning earnestness, but they're cut from the same cloth. Between generic sex and relationship shenanigans, Goldberg and company pay lip service to hot-button issues like same-sex marriage and needle-exchange programs, all in the zippy, walk-and-talk style that Aaron Sorkin would advance a couple of years later on Sports Night. It's a disposable, take-it-or-leave-it series, but fascinating as a time capsule of Clinton-era politicking, represented here as nothing more sinister than a collection of affable bullshitters. Ah, those were the days.
Key features: Cast commentaries on a few episodes, a 1996 session at The Museum Of Television And Radio with Fox and Goldberg, and a 30-minute assemblage of interviews with cast and creators.