Political satire about the Deputy Mayor of New York Michael Flaherty, played by Michael J. Fox, and the challenge of keeping a hopelessly inept man in office. Political ribbing was always at the forefront but it soon came to revolve more around the characters' personal lives.
Flaherty relied on his group of quirky, yet somehow competent, staff to manage all the details and keep things in check. James Hobert was the Midwest farmboy who wrote the political speeches, Nikki Faber was a romantic yo-yo who managed the accounting, Stuart Bondek was the sex-crazed publicity adviser, Janelle Cooper and Stacey Paterno sometimes switched roles as secretaries between Mike and the Mayor, Paul Lassiter served as the Butt-Monkey press conference mediator and Carter Heywood was the minority representative as a gay black man (done to meta levels). And despite his general Cloud Cuckoolander nature, Mayor Randall Winston on occasion would reveal a surprisingly adept mind that surprised the others.
Later episodes brought in Heather Lochlear as campaign manager Caitlin Moore. Originally Carla Gugino served as a co-lead character as Mike's girlfriend Ashley Schaefer, a reporter who evoked a certain animosity with the rest of the administration. Deciding it would be more interesting for Mike to be a bachelor they wrote her out after the first half season. Especially given the presence of fan favorite Carter by the end the series, it often contained more Ho Yay per half hour than three seasons of Will & Grace combined.
Originally created as a vehicle for Fox, but when his Parkinson's Disease grew worse, he left the show and was replaced by Charlie Sheen — who, acting as himself (a gifted professional with a lot of personal issues involving sex scandals and drug use), seemed like a second Stuart albeit sexually more successful. In addition half the cast also left the show, leaving Charlie with the mayor, Caitlin, Carter, Paul and Stuart as the only remnants of the original show. Mildly successful despite the expected fallout over replacing the lead character, it was canceled two years later.
After Fox's departure the show's creator, Bill Lawrence, and most of the staff went on to create the even more successful Scrubs, on which most of the major Fox-era Spin City actors (including Fox) have appeared in cameos/guest roles.
Not to be confused with Sin City, which incidentally starred Carla Gugino as well.
This show provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion:
- Michael mentions his old therapist was like a father to him and wonders how the new guy can just fill that spot. Enter Michael Gross.
- Meredith Baxter played Mike's mother.
- Fox's wife Tracy Pollan appeared in one episode as an old girlfriend, and then in a third season episode along with most of the other ex-girlfriends seen on the show at that point.
- For both Fox and Christopher Lloyd when the latter guest starred in "Back to the Future IV: Judgment Day."Mike: It's like stepping back in time.Owen: The past is prologue, Michael. Men like us have to look to the future!
- In "All the Mayor's Men," Mike quotes Johnny B. Goode - his signature song from Back to the Future - as a Bible passage.
- In "The Great Debate," the Mayor goads a political opponent with clucking. When Mike is asked what the Mayor is up to, he responds knowingly that he's "doing the chicken." Marty McFly could be goaded into anything if he was called a chicken.
- When going to a hockey game, Stuart wears a jersey that Alan Ruck wore in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
- This carried over to Charlie Sheen, his father Martin Sheen played his father on the show, and his then-girlfriend Denise Richards played one of his girlfriends on the show.
- A Date with Rosie Palms
Stuart: Wait...that's Little James?James: That's right.Stuart: So when you recently said you were tired from being up all night shellacking Little James...you meant that literally?James: Yes, what did you think I meant?Stuart: Never mind. Just forget what I said about "buffing little Stuart".
- Happens to Mike waiting up for Nikki when the two are going to settle their Unresolved Sexual Tension.
- Recommended by Stuart as a way for Mike to relieve the tension when he's trying to abstain from sex with Caitlin for a week. Mike refuses, intent on going it "old school."
- Stuart apparently inadvertently admitted to it once. When James brought in a craft boat he had made himself for a regatta, he was in the midst of proudly displaying it when he brings out the pilot, "Little James".
- The Alleged Car: Paul's car has a "Crush On Sight" order registered to it. Mike mistakenly switches his license plate for the Mayor's Mustang, and, well...
- Almighty Janitor: The security guard who monitors the hidden cameras. He's having the time of his life.
- Angel Unaware: Owen Kingston (Christopher Lloyd) embarrasses everyone by proclaiming himself to be the second coming of Christ. That is until the very end, when Owen seemingly brings Carter's dog back to life.
- Ashes to Crashes: In one episode, the ashes of James's favorite cow from back home gets sucked into an industrial fan and scattered throughout Paul's office. The staff try to hide the accident by replacing her with cigar ashes, but James catches on eventually after the Mayor tosses his cigar into the urn.
- As Himself: Heidi Klum
- Been There, Shaped History: When detailing her first meeting with Charlie, Caitlin reveals her then-boyfriend punched out Michael Dukakis before the 1988 election (he was trying to punch Charlie), requiring his handlers to try to devise a stunt to cultivate a macho persona. Caitlin, on hearing he was visiting an army base the next day, suggests he pose in a tank.
- Blind Without 'Em: Stuart, as revealed in the NYPD Blue spoof scene in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?".Stuart: (removing each item in succession) Take my keys, take my belt, take my glasses. (immediately crashes into the table) Give me my glasses.(Mike holds Stuart's glasses out, Stuart fumbles for a few seconds before getting a hold of them.)
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The Mayor, at least in the early seasons. He often depended on Mike, but he was a lot more savvy than expected. "Grand Illusion" and "Radio Daze" offer good examples of this. In the former episode, he knows exactly how to save face politically with Carter's marriage protest (whereas Mike panics). In the latter, the Mayor matches wits with a shock jock and makes a fool out of him on his own show.
- Butt-Monkey: Paul. He once got sued for getting shot in the head because it cost a security guard his job. Successfully!
- This ties in with his cheapness. Paul takes the case to The People's Court (probably for the money and certainly for the publicity) where he gets destroyed. If he had taken the case to a proper court, he probably would have won.
- At one point when talking about how to handle a scandal, nearly everyone suggests firing Paul, even people who never met him personally.
- And even Paul himself!
- Camp Straight: Invoked by Mayor Winston's nephew, who pretends to be Camp Gay so his parents won't try to push him into a long-term relationship. Carter sees through it immediately, saying "he's too gay to be gay."
- Canon Welding: In the last episode of Spin City where Michael J. Fox appears as a regular, it is suggested that the series takes place in the same universe as Family Ties, although with some Celebrity Paradox, as Flaherty states he went up against Alex P Keaton, who was played by Fox.
- The Casanova: Charlie and Mike to certain extent. A season three episode features all the women Mike dated on the show so far, which was no small amount, and included Heidi Klum!
- Casanova Wannabe: Stuart, though occasionally he got some ladies.
- Nikki was something of a female version of this at first, then she got a boyfriend, who she dumped for Mike. Then when Locklear joined she went back to being a loser in love.
- Character Check: Carter started off as an activist and was hired to provide a voice in the administration. That sometimes meant clashing with Mike and others, but over time, Carter became good friends with the staff and participated in various plots. In "Rebel Without a Chair," though, he wins an activist award and realizes that he hasn't done the things he set out to do at the start of the series.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Stacy left shortly before Mike did. Once Mike left the show, James, Janelle and Nikki disappeared the very next season without even a mention or an explanation. There was also a spunky girl in the first few episodes who didn't make it very far. (although given Mike gave her a permanent job, this may be more of a case of Put on a Bus)
- Clip Show: "That's Entertainment." The staff is working Oscar Sunday, so all the clips have something to do with movies.
- Comically Small Bribe: Paul attempts to bribe the office efficiency expert to keep silent about his hoarding of office supplies with a 'Buy One, Get One Free' frozen yogurt coupon.
- Continuity Nod: In "Mike's Best Friend's Boyfriend," Carter makes a joke about "hitting the head," and then tapping Mike's head, a gag he no doubt learned from Mike's good friend (played by Lou Diamond Phillips) in "An Officer and a Gentleman."
- Crossover: When Fox left the show, his character supposedly went to Washington to oppose a conservative threat - Senator Alex P. Keaton, Fox's character from Family Ties.
- There was another subtle one in the third season, when Mike turned on the TV to watch Sports Night.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The Mayor is shrewder than one would think, especially in a tight race.
- Deus ex Machina: In "Hot In the City," a power outage causes a certain refrigerator to melt, destroying a sperm sample Mike's girlfriend in this episode stole.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Happens to Mike when he's negotiating with the doorman's union. He is complimenting to their faces while insulting them in his thoughts. When they ask him to apologise on his knees, he says "Like I'm going get down on my knees for these morons" and immediately follows it by thinking "Did I just say that out loud?".
- Dogged Nice Guy: James & Paul occasionally got to play as this.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the first few episodes, Stuart was jealous that Mike became deputy mayor instead of him.
- Ethical Slut: How Nikki was portrayed in the beginning.
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Played with.
- In a season one episode, the Mayor toys with an affair with a woman he's been working closely with. They have an exchange in the limo where the Mayor finishes, but doesn't quite finish, her sentences. Responding to this she says:Woman: See, we even finish each other's...Mayor: Meals.
- In season four Mike wants to get together with Caitlin, who is going to re-marry her ex-husband Trevor. They're on a plane in the bathroom and Mike tries to convince her of the ways they're compatible, and says they finish each other's sentences, prompting this exchange:Caitlin: No we-Mike: 'Don't', see?Caitlin: Mike, that's not really a-Mike: 'Point', that's twoCaitlin: You're really starting to-Mike: Turn you on?Caitlin: (shakes her head)
- In a season one episode, the Mayor toys with an affair with a woman he's been working closely with. They have an exchange in the limo where the Mayor finishes, but doesn't quite finish, her sentences. Responding to this she says:
- Flanderization: In earlier seasons, James was just a run-of-the-mill nice guy from a small town, and not the unbelievably naive rube he became later on. Similarly, the Mayor began as a competent and intelligent elected official who depended on Mike's organizational skills; in later episodes, it seems improbable that he would have been elected to anything in the first place. Further, Paul started out as "oafish yet lovable", but spiraled down into incorrigibly, malignantly stupid as the series progressed.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Mike asks Heidi Klum what she is thinking about after they had sex, she answers "You know, mushy (pronounced as muschi) stuff." If you speak German you probably did a Spit Take after hearing that out of the blue on a PG-13 show: "muschi" means cunt, pussy.
- In the episode "Snowbound" which featured a nudist protesting around the office, the actor's butt crack can be seen a couple times in the episode. Once when Mike is speaking to him in his office, and another time when he walks away from Carter and Stuart at the vending machine.
- Government Procedural: Early episodes stressed the political angle of the show, but later episodes began to focus more on the personal and professional lives of the characters themselves. Having said that, the fourth season finale put politics at the forefront as a reason for Mike's leaving.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?: Carter proves incapable of even mailing something without a homoerotic quip."That's one package I absolutely, positively have to have tonight."
- Hired for Their Looks: Caitlin hired a guy who probably moonlit as a Chippendale's dancer (almost immediately after she chewed out Charlie for the same thing).
- Hollywood Heart Attack: Winston's opponent in the mayoral race is campaigning on his physical prowess. During an ad hoc debate with the two candidates on treadmills, the out-of-shape Winston seems to be losing ground. Suddenly, his fit opponent dies of a heart attack. His trophy wife ends up running against Winston instead.
- I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine:
- Many old Michael J. Fox-castmates, including Christopher Lloyd (as an old mentor), Meredith Baxter Birney (as his mother) and Tracy Pollan (his wife) as an old girlfriend.
- In Mike's last episode (a two-parter), he begins seeing a new therapist. Just before walking into the office, he says to his old therapist (on the phone) that he doubts that this guy could ever be the father to him that his last doctor was. He opens the door, and it's Michael Gross, Fox's father on Family Ties.
- Innocuously Important Episode: The subplot to "The Lady or the Tiger" is about Carter and Stuart opening up a gay bar. It falters. The next episode ("Single White Male") shows both suffered financially for it and have to move in together, which completely changes their dynamic for the rest of the series.
- Kangaroo Court: Paul's appearance on The People's Court (after he is sued for getting a security guard who shot him in the ear fired) rapidly turns into one of these.
- Kavorka Man: Stuart, played by the gawky, nerdy-looking Alan Ruck, had some hot girlfriends, from the evil psychotic Dierdre, to a childhood friend played by Lori Laughlin.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: "I went camping without a sleeping bag."
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: in "The Great Pretender", Mike has a brief "hydraulics problem" after Manhattan Magazine names him "the sexiest man in Manhattan" and the Mayor tells him that "once you're in the public spotlight, you can't get out".
- Metaphorgotten: In "Pride and Prejudice", when the journalist interviews Nikki, she quickly drifts from talking about her bookkeeping job to how numbers aren't like the men she's dated.
- Mood Whiplash: The show is usually a straight up comedy. However the fourth season finale where Mike leaves is perhaps the series' saddest episode. Then there's additional mood whiplash immediately afterwards with Charlie's introduction.
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Paul claims to be able speak fluent Portuguese. His attempt to bid farewell to the mayor is translated as "My monkey needs a haircut".
- No Party Given: The Mayor's political affiliations are never explicitly stated, although he's implied to be a Democrat. Given Mike goes to Washington to oppose a conservative, he's probably also a Democrat.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Caitlin uses this to get Mike to hire her as the Mayor's campaign manager. It's really Obfuscating Inexperience, especially after Mike turns down James Carville, since Mike wants someone he can overrule. After she's hired, Caitlin quickly drops the facade when she meets the Mayor, showing how sharp she is. Annoyed, Mike tells her "This isn't some cheesy soap opera."
- Pet Homosexual: Carter is the Gay Best Friend to Mike (who actually calls him his best friend) and Stuart in particular. But he's also a good sounding board for most of the cast, particularly Nikki who frequently asks him for relationship advice.
- Put on a Bus: Not least of which, Mike himself! (see "Real Life Writes The Plot"). Michael J. Fox returned in Season 6 to get married, with the Mayor as an attendee (and in drag. Aww...)
- Mike's first girlfriend was initially the second most important character on the show, being that she was also a reporter critical of the mayor. Once it was discovered that Mike was better off chasing girls romantically, she was written off the show as abruptly leaving Mike for some dream job. He mopes for an episode, and she's never dealt with again.
- The Bus Came Back for two episodes
- Raging Stiffie: Mayor's fantasy of a female public official who reminds her of his first love during a press conference sets off the plot in the "Bone Free" episode. Mike later on puts himself in the same pickle fantasizing about a female doctor.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: When Fox announced he was leaving due to his illness, Mike took a metaphorical bullet for the Mayor by taking the heat for some alleged mob connections, then resigned from his post.
- Prior to that, when Fox publicly announced he had Parkinson's, Heather Locklear was brought in to share Mike's workload. This had the unintended (or intended depending on how you look at it) side-effect of side-lining the other female characters and scuttling the Mike/Nikki relationship despite heavy build-up during the previous season and the lack of a satisfying conclusion, in favour of Mike/Caitlin. Nikki and Janelle, who both went through serious character development, essentially reverted to their season one/two characterisations.
- Alan Ruck nearly died of septicemia in 2002, the show's last season. His character was written around for a few of the final episodes. Ruck really wanted to be in the last episode, but was always shown sitting down, as he was still very weak.
- Watch the first season with Carla Gugino and see first-hand the fantastic chemistry she and Michael J. Fox had when they were on-screen together. It's still a debated subject and no one associated with the show is saying anything on or off the record, but rumor has it their chemistry was so good both on and off screen that Fox's wife Tracy basically forced the producers to write her out of the show half-way through the first season.
- Really Gets Around: Implied with Stacy Paterno, the rough-around-the-edges Italian secretary.
- Stuart, in spite of his obvious flaws, has been said to have a date every week , though how far the dates go is never clear. Carter does say at one point that Stuart hasn't slept alone since his bed was a tiny racecar.
- As demonstrated by a third season episode, Mike has had a lot of girlfriends.
- Charlie, being a more successful version of Stuart.
- Really 700 Years Old: Though not that old. Rags is at least two decades old. In people years.
- Real Song Theme Tune: For two seasons
- Running Gag: Carter's pet pug, Rags, named so for his incredibly old age. He attempts suicide in a myriad of ways, but is constantly thwarted.
- Paul's obsession with saving money, to the point that he suggests a double wedding to Mike (who was at that time engaged) eliciting the following response:Mike: Paul, I know you're cheap, but this is obscene.
- Paul's obsession with saving money, to the point that he suggests a double wedding to Mike (who was at that time engaged) eliciting the following response:
- Sand In My Eyes: At the beginning of one episode, The Mayor and Mike are watching Brian's Song on TV, and both of them are obviously crying over the scene unfolding in front of their eyes. The Mayor says to Mike 'It certainly is dusty in here', to save face.
- Sexy Santa Dress: Stacy wears one while playing Mrs Claus and is immediately swarmed by fathers wanting to sit on her lap.
- Sexy Secretary: Stacy Paterno and Nikki Faber.
- Speed Sex: In "All the Mayor's Men", Paul uses sex with his wife as part (albeit a very short part) of an alibi.Mike: And how long does that take?
Paul: I don't know. How long is "the Hollywood Minute""?
Mike: All right, well, I'm satisfied. Claudia probably less so.
- Standard Office Setting: The series features the governmental version of this trope. Most of the cast sits in an open bullpen at City Hall, but the mayor and vice-mayor have fancy private offices.
- Status Quo Game Show: Exception: Paul wins, and keeps, the $1 million prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?). For a while, anyway.
- Story Arc: The first few episodes deal with the characters attempting to negotiate a garbage-collectors' strike, and a later season has a taxi drivers strike. Later on, there was a long-running storyline about the Mayor running for Senator, in which he cites the two previous arcs during a debate.
- Straight Gay: Aside from a fondness for nice suits and the occasional innuendo or high culture reference, Carter doesn't act any more gay than anyone else on the show. The only times his orientation comes up are when his past boyfriends are plot-relevant or when Stewart wants to use Carter as a benchmark for how not-gay he is.
- Strongly Worded Letter: In the "Smile" episode, this is Carter's first response to someone parking a bicycle in his spot while Stuart mocks his diplomatic approach. When the bike's there again, however, Stuart eggs him on to mow the thing down.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Sheen for Fox, though his character mainly felt as Stuart if he would have Mike's job and a bigger sex appeal. He even inherits the relationship dynamic with Locklear's character.
- Charlie's secretary Angie, was basically a substitute for both Janelle and Stacy.
- Take a Third Option: In "Grand Illusion," Carter intends to protest the Mayor's position on gay marriage by having a very public mock wedding with Nikki. Mike struggles over how to handle this—knowing the administration will lose support from somewhere no matter what they do. The Mayor remains relaxed throughout—ultimately telling Mike that the solution that'll make everyone happy is to do nothing at all.
- Taking the Bullet: In a possible assassination attempt (the shots heard were actually a secret serivcewoman's balloons popping), Mike leaves the Mayor (who to be fair was well protected by other members of his staff) to protect Nikki. This upsets the Mayor, who tries to replace Mike with Paul. Later, a hot dog vendor who the Mayor offended, throws a hot dog 'with everything on it' at him and Mike 'takes the bullet' for the Mayor. Later, Mike rewatches the tape of him leaving the Mayor to protect Nikki, which Nikki sees, leading to them getting together.
- Taking the Heat: Mike figuratively takes a bullet for the Mayor in the fourth season finale where he claims to have mob connections so the Mayor can be spared a scandal and a subsequent ousting.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Paul, the show's resident Butt-Monkey, wins the grand prize in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in one episode, by guessing at every question. Of course, see Yank the Dog's Chain below.
- Title Drop: In season 6, Michael J. Fox returns as Mike to explain to Charlie exactly what the job of deputy mayor is about.Charlie: That was all a lie?Mike: No, that was a spinmasking an untruth with assorted facts.Charlie: So... lying?Mike: Yeah, pretty much.
- True Love Is Boring : The reason why Ashley (Carla Gugino) was written out of the show.
- Twofer Token Minority: Carter - gay and black, and Janelle, black and a woman.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Mike & Nikki, Mike & Caitlin, Charlie & Caitlin, and (as commented on by everyone) Carter and Stuart. Basically a very common recurrence here.
- Welcome Episode: The first episode has Mike hiring Carter (at that point a gay rights activist) to counter negative publicity from the Mayor's refusal to march in the gay pride parade.
- Will They or Won't They?: Mike & Nikki played with this for a season, but it was ultimately dropped in favour of Mike/Caitlin. Then there was Charlie/Caitlin.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: After winning the grand prize on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Paul uses his winnings to open a politically-themed restaurant. It's a spectacular failure, and he's back to being the press secretary the very next episode.
- You Can't Handle the Parody: One episode sees the Mayor give a statement about appearing on a gay pride float. Carter, James and Stacey were supposed to write the Mayor's statement, but fell asleep and ran out of time, so they cribbed material from A Few Good Men. The three eat popcorn while the Mayor gives his Nicholson-inspired statement, leading to the inevitable exchange.Mayor: You want answers?
Reporter: I want answers.
Mayor: You want answers?!
Reporter: I want the truth!
Mayor: You can't handle the truth!
- Your Mom: In a season two episode, The Mayor sleeps with Mike's mother. From then on he's not afraid to mention it, for example:The Mayor: Mike, as you know, the last woman I engaged in sexual intercourse with was your motherMike: No, I was not aware of that sir.
Mike: You've been like a father to me, sir.The Mayor: Because I slept with your mother, right?Mike: No, sir, but that's a welcome addition to any conversation
- And later: