Judge Clark Douglas wrote this review with his violent torpedo of truth.
Our reviews of Spin City: The Complete First Season (published November 4th, 2008), Spin City: The Complete Second Season (published May 4th, 2009), Spin City: The Complete Third Season (published November 11th, 2009), Spin City: The Complete Fourth Season (published March 2nd, 2011), and Spin City: The Complete Sixth Season (published December 13th, 2011) are also available.
Look out, New York—there's a new deputy in town!
"Do you mind if I just call you Mike?"
Facts of the Case
New York Deputy-Mayor Mike Flaherty (Michael J. Fox, Family Ties) has officially departed, leaving a major vacancy in the office of Mayor Randall M. Winston, Jr. (Barry Bostwick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Mike's replacement: the slick, womanizing Charlie Crawford (Charlie Sheen, Platoon). Charlie quickly becomes buddies with office veterans Stuart (Alan Ruck, Justified), Paul (Richard Kind, A Serious Man), and Carter (Michael Boatman, The Good Wife), but clashes a great deal with the more serious-minded Caitlin (Heather Locklear, Melrose Place). Is Charlie the right man for the job, or will his unconventional methods and checkered past get the best of him? Find out in Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season! The episodes are spread across four discs:
The first four seasons of Spin City weren't exactly great television, but the Michael J. Fox vehicle was a perfectly pleasant way to pass a half hour during the latter part of the 1990s. However, when Fox learned that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, the show brought in another major character (Heather Locklear's Caitlin) for the purpose of easing the actor's workload. Even so, Fox announced that he was leaving the show after the fourth season, forcing the network to either bring things to a close or press on without the beloved Mr. Fox. In a way, they did both. The final episode of the fourth season was a rather moving finish to Fox's run and a heartfelt tribute to the actor, one of those unforgettable television moments despite the slightness of the actual program it appeared on. It was an excellent season finale, and it would have been an excellent series finale.
Even so, it was decided that the program would carry on with a new actor in the lead role. The first choice: a recently sober Charlie Sheen, hungry for a career rebound. The addition of Sheen was the biggest change, but the show was tweaked in other ways: the characters of James, Nikki, and Janelle vanished. It was a sizable adjustment, but honestly, James and Janelle weren't great characters and Connie Britton's Nikki was best when she was interacting with Fox's character. The best supporting characters were left intact, and they keep doing their thing well enough during this awkward time of transition (Barry Bostwick's deluded politician remains a comic delight much cleverer than the rest of the program).
Frankly, I've never really cared much for the Sheen-led fifth and sixth seasons of Spin City, simply because Sheen's vaguely sleazy screen persona is an unsatisfying substitute for Fox's eager persistence. Sheen is basically playing the usual Charlie Sheen role in his usual Charlie Sheen-ish way, and your enjoyment of such will basically determine your enjoyment of this season. These days, it's rather difficult to separate Sheen's public, tiger blood-drinking, coke-snorting, internet-ranting, childish winning real-life persona from his screen work. It's actually much harder to ignore Sheen's personal life than, say, Mel Gibson's, because Sheen's acting is so limited that he's often stuck playing a variation on himself. That's definitely the case here, and it's more distracting (and less amusing) than ever at this point.
It might not seem like a huge deal, but without Fox as an anchor, Spin City just isn't half as enjoyable to sit through. The cornball nature of the jokes suddenly becomes more obvious, the thin plotting less forgivable, and the one-dimensional characters more grating. Fox was the entertainingly frenzied whirlwind that distracted us from all of this; his absence accentuates the flaws. The public seemed to agree, as the ratings steadily declined during over the course of two Sheen-led seasons until the program was cancelled.
Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season receives a so-so DVD transfer. Detail is decent, but color bleeding is occasionally an issue and the picture is pretty flat. It looks as good as it would on television, and that's about it. Audio is similarly so-so, though the scoring seems a bit less aggressive than usual this season. Dialogue is clear enough. There are no extras included on the set.
While I feel Spin City probably should have called it quits after Fox departed, Charlie Sheen's run isn't exactly terrible television. Even so, this fifth season is a pretty striking demonstration of just how much this series depended on Fox for its success.
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