Was Charlie Sheen the wrong actor to replace Michael J. Fox?
To give you a better idea of what I mean:
Heather Locklear, who was brought in Season 4 to help Fox with some of the comedic lifting (which she did more than admirably) would also return to the new Sheen-ified Spin City. The two had co-starred in 1997’s Money Talks so there was bound to be some chemistry there.
As Season 5 begins, the City Hall crew is scrambling around wondering where the new deputy mayor is. Then we see him getting dressed after spending the morning in bed with a beautiful blonde stewardess (Kimberley Davies). This is our introduction to Charlie Crawford, New York City’s new deputy mayor: a reformed bad-boy Washington staffer who was run out of town for bad behavior.
This is also the first inclination that this is going to be a different show just in terms of energy. Fox’s Mike Flaherty was a character who never—no, couldn’t sit still for 10 seconds. Mike would jump on desks, hop in the air, flip over on a bed to get dressed, roller-blade through city hall (it was the ’90s), and nervously dance a jig when he met a woman he liked. It was that energy that came to represent the series over four years.
Spin City‘s very first episode in 1996 was directed by famed TV director Thomas Schlamme, director of Friends, ER, Sports Night and The West Wing—some very, very fast-paced, high-energy shows. Schlamme set Spin City’s pace right away and the show never wavered from that (except for Fox’s final emotional episodes).
However, the pace felt off with Sheen right from the start.
Naturally, any show would require some adjusting when the lead character departs. In the first few episodes of Season 5, Spin City felt like a different show. Perhaps this was also due to the fact that production moved from New York to Los Angeles during hiatus in the summer of 2000. Spin City was a series that utilized location filming perhaps more so than any other sitcom up to that time. Central Park, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and more were all used as location spots during the Fox years. New York was just as much a character in the show during its first four years as any of the human principles. With the move to California, that was the end of that. The show’s creative team substituted shots of the Big Apple for shots of models in lingerie (which Season 5 did not fail to showcase).
After the adjustment period, some things fell into place. Sheen and Locklear did develop a nice patter with each other and we can be glad that the writers decided these two worked best as foes and then friends instead of a couple. Locklear’s character, Caitlin, was still dating Mike early on but that ended before long. This is where the door for a Charlie/Caitlin romance would open but fortunately, Charlie falls for Jennifer (Denise Richards), a campaign staffer for a rival candidate competing against Winston for mayor.
Sheen does settle into his role as deputy mayor, no doubt about that, but that Fox energy is very much missed, as are Britton, Chaplin, and Dillard. In addition to Sheen, actress Lana Parrilla (Once Upon a Time) was added as his secretary, Angie, but her introduction is—wait, there wasn’t one. In episode two, she’s just all of a sudden there as if she’s always been there. It’s a pretty jarring intro especially recounting the major to-do it was when Paul had to hire a new secretary (ultimately played by Jennifer Esposito) for Mike back in Season 2. What’s worse is that Parrilla, a very gifted comedic actress, is given absolutely nothing to do in her role but sit at her desk. Really, this is all she does and it’s such a wasted opportunity.
So, while Sheen does build a nice (but low energy) chemistry with the cast (most notably with Locklear and Bostwick), one wonders what would have happened had producers chose someone different. In one memorable Season 5 episode, Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills, 90210 appears as a cocky, old friend of Charlie’s and Priestley brings an energy to this part that makes one wish he would have gotten the lead. His one episode was way too brief.