[25 October 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Long before Charlie Sheen was replaced by Ashton Kutcher on Two and a Half Men, he was himself stepping into a vacancy on a hit sitcom. In 2000, Spin City star Michael J. Fox announced he was leaving his role as New York Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty (he remained an executive producer). Sheen was tapped to step into the lead as Deputy Mayor Charlie Crawford for the fifth season, joining a cast that included Heather Locklear as the city Communications Director Caitlin Moore, Barry Bostwick as Mayor Winston, Alan Ruck as Assistant Deputy Mayor Stuart Bondek, Michael Boatman as Carter Heywood , the Minority Liaison to the Mayor’s office, and Richard Kind as press secretary Paul Lassiter. Other characters from earlier seasons, including Connie Britton’s Nikki were written out, so season five had Caitlin as the only woman in a major role within the mayor’s office.
Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season begins, obviously enough, with Charlie trying to assert himself amidst the craziness that is the mayor’s office. Caitlin is in charge of the Mayor’s public image—which is suffering thanks to turmoil in his personal life—so she feels she should be in charge of other things, as well. Charlie, naturally, disagrees, and conflicts ensue.
This is where the majority of the energy in this season is meant to come from, but with both Locklear and Sheen basically playing characters they’ve played before (he’s the slick charmer with a bad boy past, she’s the cold, uptight, control-freak), it seems a little sluggish. Many story lines revolved around the will-they-won’t-they attraction between Charlie and Caitlin, and that eventually becomes a bit boring to watch. In any case, they looked good together and they did have great comic chemistry, but what else would you expect with these two actors in the leads?
That’s not to say that they take all the stories. The best stories might be those focusing on Bostwick’s increasingly rudderless mayor. Some of the best bits, as with any sitcom, go to the supporting cast, like in the episode entitled “Lost and Found” when Paul, Stuart and Carter compete against each other to decide who gets to accompany the mayor on a trip to New Orleans. And like other shows, sometimes the memorable moments are saved for the parade of guest stars, of which season five had many, including Regis Philben, Rena Sofer, Jason Priestly, Raquel Welch, Dakota Fanning, Rosie O’Donnell and Alyssa Milano, reprising her role as Mayor Winston’s wayward daughter.
The Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season DVD set features all 23 original half-hour episodes, but it doesn’t include any bonus material at all. As such, it may be of more interest to existing fans completing their DVD collections, but then, newer viewers might also want to see what Charlie Sheen was up to before he was subtracted from Two and a Half Men. He did win the Golden Globe in 2002 (Best Actor in a TV Series Comedy) for his work on Spin City, after all.