1985 - Looking Back At MOONLIGHTING

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Do bears bear? Do bees bee? Matt Donabie investigates...


Back in the day Moonlighting was my favorite show on television. Part detective drama, part romantic comedy, it was unlike anything I'd seen, even if that brief description does not make it seem that special. The reason was creator Glenn Gordon Caron, whose unique vision resulted in a series better written and better executed than anything else on TV. The rule book was thrown out of the window as the characters were self aware, breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience mid-scene, acknowledging their fictional existence. It drew you into the program, making you part of the experience.

And it was funny, very very funny. The non-stop sledge hammer wit was almost always full on for the whole episode, with multiple moments when I would find myself laughing out loud. The scenes were always brilliantly constructed, the jokes always intelligent. The writers never got all the credit they deserved, I'm sure, because no matter how funny one joke is, there is always a come back line to top it. Often the two main characters would talk at the same time, for ages! Unheard of in television, but it worked, so very very well. I would have to record and re-watch episodes over again just to catch all the verbal banter between them.



When Moonlighting launched in Spring 1985 it was as a mid-season replacement and an initial order of just 6 episodes. The opening TV movie length pilot was sold on the strength of Cybill Shepherd. The actress, singer and former model was well known, and her character of Maddie Hayes was clearly developed with Shepherd in mind. Miss Hayes (always shot with a soft lens) awakens to discover her accountant has absconded with the fortune she made as a high fashion model. In the course of finding out that she needs to sell everything she owns, she discovers a little detective agency which was purchased for her as a tax write-off. The head sleuth is the wise cracking David Addison, played by the then unknown Bruce Willis (with a surprising amount of hair). By the end of the pilot, David cunningly manages to persuade Maddie to keep the business and partner with him running Blue Moon detective agency.



Both David and Maddie are shown to be equally flawed, equally vulnerable, and equally wonderful in their own wacky kind of way. They are both compelling to watch, both can be hilarious (although largely it's David), emotionally involving, and smolderingly sexy in their scenes together. David is pretty much written as a male chauvinist at first and Maddie as an ice queen, but they both evolve through the influence of the other. The rapport between the two brought viewers back for more. The will-they won't-they nature of their relationship drove the early seasons, and by the end of those initial 6 stories it was clear to both viewers and critics that Moonlighting was something truly special.
 
The investigations themselves were really only secondary and served as a way to drive the conversational hari-kari between David and Maddie. But despite their second class status, the plots were actually original and interesting. Credit again to the writers for coming up with not just the witty dialogue but also unique and interesting story lines that were intriguing and that continued to develop the principal characters. There was also the long running joke investigation, the Anselmo case. Often casually referred to but never actually seen, with just brief details dropped here and there. It was little touches like this which helped the show cross over to a geeky audience, the kind who love the subtle attention to detail.



Moonlighting never shied away from experimentation, and often excelled in this arena. In the second season episode "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice",  Maddie and David interview a client who owns a once famous LA nightclub which is about to be torn down. They learn of a mysterious murder that occurred there in the 40's, still unsolved, that revolved around a trumpet player having an affair with the band's married girl singer. The singer's husband was killed and both the trumpet player and the songstress claim the other did the deed. Of course David assumes the woman framed the musician. Maddie feels it was much more likely the sleazy guy who did it. Each of them daydream their version of events in 1940's black and white, with Bruce playing the trumpeter and Cybill the singer. Each of their mini-stories works as film noir homage, and the pairing of the two versions come off even stronger. In addition it allowed us to see David and Maddie in a romantic setting without having to put the characters directly into that kind of show killing situation yet - but more on that later. The episode won Emmy nominations for everyone involved, including both Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. Willis won, and was quickly becoming as big of a star as his female lead.

The second and third seasons of Moonlighting are the strongest. Especially the third as it brought the famous Taming of the Shrew parody, "Atomic Shakespeare"; the delightful story told through dance via a Billy Joel number "Big Man On Mulberry Street"; the Capraesque "It's A Wonderful Job"; and the riveting four part continuing story line involving the romantic triangle with guest star Mark Harmon. This was the storyline that lead to the very very famous consummation scene between Maddie and David.

But the third season was also the one where the show really started to struggle with the demands of network television, managing to deliver just 15 episodes rather than the expected 22. Supporting duo Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) and Agnes Dipesto (Allyce Beasley) were given larger roles, occasionally entire episodes to themselves, both are fantastic characters and actors but viewers became frustrated because it was Maddie and David they wanted. Naturally the writers wrote this into the show and delivered an episode featuring 80's reporter, Rona Barrett, who goes to Blue Moon to get "The Straight Poop". Apparently Maddie and David have been fighting and not speaking to one another, so no new episodes!



Even though the series lost some of its sparkle after Maddie and David 'did it', I believe they could've got the show back on track. Season 4 was initially still as funny and original, but outside forces were against the show ever fully recovering its magic. Firstly, Cybill Shepherd became pregnant with twins in real life, it was unwisely written into the show, and even more unwisely written out in the fifth season opener "A Womb With A View", an episode penned after creator Glenn Gordon Caron had left the series - a nail in the coffin if ever there was one. Then Bruce Willis found himself with an emerging movie career, and became frustrated with the confines of the television series, often having to carry entire episodes whilst Shepherd was on maternity leave. There are many stories told of how Willis and Shepherd's real life relationship soured as the series progressed, and it seems that viewers felt the show was suffering because of it and started to abandon the show. The cancellation arrived mid-way through season 5.

With so much television output today being either overly dramatic or sitcoms stuffed with sexual humor, there's a gap for a show like Moonlighting because no one seems to know how to just have fun anymore. Moonlighting never forgot that it was just a television show, and it didn't mind poking fun at itself.
"What do we do now?"
"Wrap this up in about 12 minutes so another show can come on the air."
They say a candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long, and this is very apt for Moonlighting. It was one of the most creative, original and totally involving television series to ever hit the screen. With all the delays in production, all the unfortunate ego clashes, and even the dip in the series quality in the last year, Moonlighting was, and still is, a terrific show.


Blue Moon Investigations ceased operations on May 14th, 1989. The Anselmo case was never solved, and remains a mystery to this day...
Matt has a passion for just about anything from the 1980s, and prides himself on never having seen the movie Grease.

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