There are only a handful of shows that could be said to have broken the mold. All in the Family, M*A*S*H, these shows helped redefine the standard half-hour sitcom.
When it came to dramas, however, Moonlighting set a totally new standard. It not only made it okay for hour-long dramas to be funny, but raised the bar for the kind of humor that could be used. Dramas were allowed to be smart and sexy, funny and dramatic, all in one hour. It could be argued that without Moonlighting, shows such as Northern Exposure and Ally McBeal may not have existed.
That’s not to say that Moonlighting was a perfect show. Watching it again after so many years, I found the pacing a little slow at times, especially the original pilot episode. The dialogue is witty and sharp, but the stories unfold in drips and drabs. Still, you can see the cleverness of it. It was smart, smarter than the average show at the time, and defined to this day the public image of Bruce Willis.
Ultimately the series fell victim to industry-wide writer’s strikes, production problems and highly publicized conflicts between its two stars, Willis and Cybil Shepard. But that doesn’t change the fact that the series had an impact in its first two seasons, and that’s what we’re here to discuss today.
Moonlighting follows a man and a woman who partner up as the heads of Blue Moon Detective Agency. The man is David Addison (Willis), an experienced private detective whose sarcastic, frat-boy attitude often rubs his partner the wrong way. The woman is Maddie Hayes (Shepard), a former cover model who loses all her money to corrupt accountants. As she tries to sell off her remaining assets, she’s convinced by Addison to work with him at the detective agency, which she owns.
The regular cast in the first two seasons was rounded out by Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley), the rhyming receptionist.
Regardless of the mysteries that guided each episode, it was the relationship between Maddie and David that dominated Moonlighting. It’s why people tuned in each week. The “will they or won’t they” banter was expertly done in the first two seasons. Ultimately you cared for these two people, because they were flawed and likable characters.
For me, hands down, the best episode available on this set is “The Dream Always Rings Twice”. It’s with this one, which was largely in black and white and features Orsen Welles in his final performance, is Moonlighting’s most unique episode. Largely a fantasy story, with Willis and Shepard playing a different set of star-crossed lovers during the 1940s.
Another episode that serves as a prime example of what made this show unique was its second season finale, “Camille”, which guest starred Whoopi Goldberg and Judd Nelson. The ending is classic, with the characters breaking through the fourth wall and onto the lot where the show is filmed. Moonlighting often poked fun at itself, and openly acknowledged that it was a television series, by having its characters walk off set and into the “real world”. But never do the actors break character.
The DVD set itself has some great features, including a two-part documentary about the show, as well as a selection of audio commentaries on certain episodes. Both are insightful and at times funny. The documentaries sort of rush through the problems the show suffered, but doesn’t dismiss them.
Now, I may be incorrect, but I didn’t find any instance where the music in the episodes was replaced with some generic tune. This has been an issue for several other DVDs, so I tried to keep track this time around (especially since Moonlightingwas famous for using great music). It was good to see that, for once, a show’s soundtrack was released intact.
The only real complaint I would have for this DVD set is the packaging. It’s not particularly attractive, and the plastic fold out is a little clumsy. Plus, getting the DVDs out is slightly troublesome. But ultimately one gets these sets for the contents, not the packaging, and Lions Gate did the series justice with great audio and video, and terrific special features.