Ah, the days when workplace sitcoms followed their jokes with cued laughs rather than editing cuts made by a metafictional camera crew. The year 1996 marked Michael J. Fox’s triumphant return to television as Mike Flaherty, New York’s energetic, if a bit weasely, deputy mayor. Flaherty manages the political and personal crises that erupt among the sweet but buffoonish mayor (a brilliantly aloof Barry Bostwick) and his staff, which includes Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as the deputy mayor’s awkwardly arrogant assistant. A parade of guest stars marches through the first season: In one of the best plot lines, Woody Harrelson shows up as the thirtysomething winner of a “Mayor for the Day” contest for elementary-school kids.
In the first few episodes, Spin City attempts to balance an office comedy with a Mad About You–style relationship between Flaherty and city hall reporter Ashley Schaeffer (Carla Gugino), but the power couple’s tiresome conflicts proved to be too heavy a load for the flighty sitcom. After the holiday break, only a box of Schaeffer’s bras is left to remember her by, and the show zeroes in on its strengths: high-energy staff meetings and fast-paced hallway banter. Jokes that were painful 12 years ago remain so: When accountant Nikki (Connie Britton) asks for relationship advice from Carter (Michael Boatman), the gay minorities-affairs director, she quips: “You’re homosexual, but you’re bihelpful.” But much of the show’s humor has held up surprisingly well, particularly press secretary Paul’s (Richard Kind) goofy anxieties and the wry asides that come out of the mayor’s mouth. It’s funnier than most half-hour comedies on TV right now, although that’s not saying much.