Moonlighting: Seasons 1 & 2
November 8, 2005
In a landscape dominated by Dynasty and Hill St. Blues, Moonlighting was a breath of fresh air when it debuted on American television in 1985. It was a detective show that provided a funny, witty alternative and ambitiously took the screwball comedy popular in the ‘30s and ‘40s and gave it a contemporary spin that has never been duplicated as successfully on mainstream TV since.
Maddie Hayes (Shepherd) is an ex-model who wakes up one morning to realize that her accountant has run off with all of her money. She scrambles to try and reclaim her fortune. As luck would have it, she invested in several companies and decides to sell off her shares. The last one on the list is the Blue Moon Detective Agency, run by the fast-talking, wise-cracking David Addison (Willis). On the surface, he doesn’t seem like much of a detective but rather more of a hustler on the make.
Maddie tells him that she is closing down the agency and David, desperate to maintain his cushy gig, tries his hardest to change her mind. In the process, they stumble across a mystery—or rather, have one thrust upon them. Even though she would never admit it in public, David has chipped away at her defenses and begins to charm her. She holds off on closing down the agency because she is having too much fun running it with David.
Each episode has them confronted with and eventually solving a different mystery while the sexual tension continues to build, which, at the time, had fans anticipating if and when they would become romantically involved. The eventual consummation of their relationship would ultimately ruin the show but the first two seasons feature Moonlighting in its purest form: sharp and focused. What makes the show work so well is the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. They banter and bicker furiously like a couple straight out of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy. Their exchanges are delivered fast with dialogue often overlapping that is very funny.
Willis is perfectly cast as the smart-ass David Addison. There is a loose, improvisational feel to his performances as he gleefully gives Maddy grief at every opportunity. Shepherd is his ideal foil as the cold, no-nonsense Maddy Hayes. The best moments are when these two contrasting personalities clash—the epitome of a love-hate relationship.
The writing on the show is very good. The dialogue is crisp with a snap and pop to it. In “Next Stop Murder,” an homage to Agatha Christie murder mysteries, Blue Moon’s chipper, rhyming receptionist, Miss DiPesto (Beasley) wins a contest to participate in famous mystery writer J.B. Harland’s murder mystery train. David and Maddie drive her to the station and accidentally get stranded on the train with a real murder to solve. Here is a memorable exchange in the episode:
Maddie: “I was not born yesterday!” David: “It’s true. I had lunch with her yesterday. If she’d been born I’d a noticed.”
It isn’t only the words but how Willis delivers them that makes what he says so funny. And yet, the show isn’t wall-to-wall comedy. There are sober moments of drama and, of course, romance. The show even addresses David’s lack of maturity in “My Fair David,” where Maddie bets him that he can’t act like a mature professional for a full week. This episode features some of the funniest bits between Shepherd and Willis in the show’s entire run.
By season two, the show’s creator, Glenn Gordon Caron, parlayed the show’s success into making more ambitious episodes. “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” was shot in black and white as an homage to classic Hollywood musicals and film noir. It was even introduced by Orson Welles, a week before he died.
Moonlighting set a new standard for the bickering, romantic comedy that has influenced so many TV shows that came afterwards (even something as squeaky clean as Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). In its prime, before things got too serious between David and Maddie, it was the funniest, smartest show on TV. It also resurrected Cybill Shepherd’s career and launched Bruce Willis’ (his subsequent starring role in Die Hard made him a bonafide movie star). The show holds up remarkably well today (even with the dated clothes and hairstyles) and this is due large part to the writing and chemistry between the cast members. This excellent 6-DVD set features top notch transfers and a nice collection of extras, featuring the participation of the three regulars (Willis, Shepherd and Beasley), for fans to enjoy.
The first DVD features an audio commentary on the “Pilot” by writer/creator Glenn Gordon Caron, director Robert Butler, editor Artie Mandelberg and producer Jay Daniel. Caron tends to repeat what is covered in the featurette as they reminisce about the episode on this spirited track. Completists and fans that have the Anchor Bay DVD should hold onto it as there is a different commentary with Caron and Willis.
“Not Just A Day Job – The Story of Moonlight Part 1” takes a look at the first season. Caron points out that the show flew in the face of the standard format: half-hour TV shows were for comedies and an hour for dramas. He was a struggling TV writer at the time that had left Remington Steele to work for ABC on a purposed boy-girl detective show like Hart to Hart. This excellent retrospective featurette also covers the casting of Shepherd and then-unknown Willis.
“Moonlighting Pilot Promo” features a collection of vintage TV ads for the first episode of the show.
The third DVD includes an audio commentary on “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” by director Peter Werner, co-writer Debra Frank and Caron. The met a lot of resistance from the network who didn’t want them to shoot in black and white with ambitious musical numbers. In essence, they were making a mini-movie, “a Valentine to a style of filmmaking that had gone out of vogue,” Caron says at one point.
There is also a commentary for “My Fair David” with director Will Mackenzie and Bruce Willis. The actor admires the “cool film noir” look (?!) of the episode while Mackenzie praises the chemistry between Willis and Shepherd. They point out the continuity goofs on Willis’ tie and tend to spend more time watching the episode then commenting on it.
The fifth DVD features an audio commentary on “Twas the Episode Before Christmas” by director Werner, Daniel and Allyce Beasley. Daniel provides a wealth of production information and trivia. For example, this was the first time we saw where Miss DiPesto lived. This fun track is packed full of anecdotal information.
Also included is an audio commentary on “Every Daughter’s Father is a Virgin” by Cybill Shepherd and Caron. They talk about how an episode is put together while the actress is refreshingly candid about the times when she lost her cool. They also talk about the challenges making the show: the last minute script changes and additions that drove everyone crazy.
The sixth DVD features “The Story of Moonlighting Part 2” which focuses on the second season. Caron used the show’s success to spend additional money on more ambitious episodes. However, they didn’t always meet their scheduled air dates with scenes being written on the spot. Caron encouraged his cast and crew to try anything and this resulted in the high quality show we all know and love.
“The Moonlighting Phenomenon” has fans, critics and crew members gush about the show and talk about its significance. It was created during the conservative ‘80s and how it started off with mediocre ratings (it was one of many detective shows on at the time) but over the summer it was rediscovered via reruns and took off.