Political satire about the Deputy Mayor of New York. When the show began, it was all about politics -- particularly, about the challenge of keeping an idiot in office -- but soon came to revolve around the characters' personal lives.
The show became somewhat meta over the seasons: just as the mayor serves absolutely no apparent purpose to the city (being, well, dumb as a brick), the character eventually serves no purpose to the plot -- apart from screwing up, so that the rest of the cast has something to do. That's not a bad thing, though, and he still got to be The Mentor sometimes. Though not as often as in the beginning, and sometimes unbeknownst to himself.
Originally created as a vehicle for Michael J. Fox, but when his Parkinson's Disease grew worse, he left the show and was replaced by Charlie Sheen -- who, acting as himself, seemed like a second Stuart (albeit sexually more successful). Many consider this the point where the show jumped the shark and show was canceled two years later. 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.
- 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 Ferrari, 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.
- 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!
- 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 he 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 apologize 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 and Paul occasionally got to play as this.
- 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 others'...
- 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 others' sentences, prompting this exchange:
Caitlin: No we-
Mike: 'Don't', see?
Caitlin: Mike, that's not really a-
Mike: 'Point', that's two.
Caitlin: You're really starting to-
Mike: Turn you on?
Caitlin: (shakes her head)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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's 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. Opens the door, and it's Michael Gross, Fox's father on Family Ties.
- 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.
- 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 when the show jumps the shark 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 below)! 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.
- 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 favor of Mike/Caitlin. Nikki and Janelle, who both went through serious character development, essentially reverted to their Season One/Two characterizations.
- 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.
- 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) illicting the following response:
Mike: Paul, I know you're cheap, but this is obscene.
- Sand in My Eyes: At the beginning of one episode, the Mayor and Mike are watching a play, 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.
- Status Quo Game Show: Exception: Paul wins, and keeps, the $1 million prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. For a while, anyway.
- 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.
- Taking the Bullet: In a possible assassination attempt (the shots heard were actually a secret servicewoman'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 re-watches 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.
- 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 spin—masking 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.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: 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.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Mike and Nikki, Mike and Caitlin, Charlie and 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 and Nikki played with this for a season, but it was ultimately dropped in favor of Mike/Caitlin. Then there was Charlie/Caitlin.
- 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 mother.
Mike: No, I was not aware of that sir.
- And later:
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.