It is a happy truth of working life that offices are generally not breeding grounds for zaniness, despite what so many sitcom producers would have us believe. Most of us do not jump up and down on trampolines placed next to our desks like the team on the short-lived software-company sitcom Dweebs. Most of us do not have catastrophe-magnet assistants afflicted with a taste for awful vintage clothing like the architects on last year's unfunny Partners. And most of us do not seek inspiration by unfurling toilet paper all over our desks like the copywriters on last season's insipid ad-world sitcom Good Company.
Indeed, far too many contemporary sitcoms have veered away from the Mary Tyler Moore Show's example of mining workplace humor simply from well-limned, quasi-believable characters. NewsRadio has been a smart exception to the recent rule, and so too is Spin City (ABC, Tuesdays 9:30 p.m. EDT), one of the most energetically promoted new shows of the fall season.
The comedy, as most of the television-owning public is surely aware by now, features Michael J. Fox as the deputy mayor of New York City. It is the creation of Gary David Goldberg, who launched Fox to stardom as the most darling supply-sider of the '80s, Family Ties' Alex Keaton. On the new show Fox's Mike Flaherty is Alex with his own Pottery Barn-furnished apartment. Like Alex he is guided by no redeeming ideals or principles. Instead, Flaherty lives quite happily for the rush of weaving the lies and quarter truths that will mend his boss's innumerable gaffes. When Mayor Randall Winston (played by Barry Bostwick with an unfortunate excess of dimwittedness) slights the gay community, Flaherty jauntily cooks up a scheme to convince the press that the administration is not bigoted by trying to force a straight staff member to pretend he is gay.
Fox, like Ted Danson and Don Johnson, has a gift for making moral vacuousness endearing. At 35 he still conveys a playful mischievousness. He is the kid who hogs the sandbox without offending anyone.
And yet, while he is undeniably the showy centerpiece of this ensemble comedy, Fox leaves just enough room for his supporting players to enjoy themselves. As Paul, the mayor's confused and ignored press secretary, Richard Kind seems poised to overtake Michael Richards' Kramer as sitcomdom's most physically inventive nervous wreck. Connie Britton and Alexander Gaberman are also quite funny as, respectively, a romantically addled accountant and a shy speechwriter. As homage to the unclean gymnastics of p.r., Spin City is certainly the season's most believable new sitcom. And also by far the best.
--By Ginia Bellafante