Saturday, July 5, 2008

Moonlighting Seasons One & Two: Classic Episodes, Part 1 of 5

I ranked eleven episodes of Moonlighting *** or above, here's capsule reviews of the first three:

Season One

• "The Next Murder You Hear" (airdate: 03/19/85) ***
As with the best episodes of the series, a diverting mystery serves as a background to Maddie Hayes and David Addisons’s battle of the sexes. The comic wordplay begins with one terrific silent moment from Maddie following David's utterance of the word “boinked.” This early episode also shows off Addison’s talents for detecting (a little), which helps ground all the craziness. The episode is about a late-night “lonelyhearts” talk show host who’s murdered on the air, and when it hits the front pages, David wants to take the case for publicity; Maddie begins to listen to the radio host's old shows on tape and becomes interested. The plot twist is obvious to Moonligting fans and anyone who's read the credits; a second less obvious twist keeps the episode humming along and into act three. Addison getting drunk at a bar (singing “Respect,” etc.) has its moments and a certain delightful rough-around-the-edges early series episode quality. Contains the classic moment where Maddie finds David in her office, when she pulls her door shut. Not among the very best episodes, but it’s the season one episode that best exemplifies the future formula, including the wacky confrontation/chase-the-killer finale.

Season Two

• "The Lady in the Iron Mask" (airdate: 10/1/85) *** 1/2
Odd, and therefore memorable, series episode in which a woman wearing a black veil, whose face had been disfigured, shows up at the Blue Moon Detective Agency, in order to hire David and Maddie to find the recently paroled man who threw acid in her face (she claims she wants him found because she “always loved him"). This episode seemed to rerun quite a bit while the show was on, so it must have done well in the ratings. It opens hilariously with some off-topic commentary on “9-to-5-er” boredom (When the staff disappears Agnes Dipesto says they’re at lunch and Maddie says “Lunch? It’s not even 10:15?” to which Agnes replies “OK then. Brunch?”). Again the showdown between Maddie and David begins with the oft-repeated argument as to whether the case should be taken, which comes to a dramatic head with some character development from Maddie— she had once been the object of an unhealthy obsession herself. We get back on comedic track when Maddie mentions the phrase “Let’s be friends” prompting David to offer his interpretation of this most-dreaded of female turndowns: “No kissy, no huggy, no horizonty.” A very farfetched series of plot twists and turns mark this episode— that you just go with— punctuated by a Hitchcockian score.

• "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice" (airdate: 10/15/85) *** 1/2
The black & white episode, the Orson Welles episode, the “Blue Moon” episode. In the old abandoned Flamingo Cove nightclub, whose heydey was in the 1940s, Maddie and David are told about the famous murder that took place there, in which a singer and a trumpet player both blamed each other for her husband’s murder. The episode shows two versions of how the “Flamingo Cove Murder” might have happened— Maddie’s version shot in glossy MGM style and David’s, shot in down-and-dirty Warner Bros. style. This show begins with Addison’s opinion as to why he’s glad that there’s a little dishonesty in the world (and the unexplained logic seems to make sense!). Just before the show goes to black-and-white, Maddie and David have a "car fight" in which he calls her a sexist and she ends up shouting: “Not another word, not another sound, not another peep until we get back to the office!” Then there’s a beat, and David says: “peep.” Back at the office David gives his “sexiest sexist speech” on how he likes to “satirize, scrutinize, fantasize, etc. etc.” Maddie. The main drama is well written and a nice homage, if somehow a shade forced (especially the humor in the second story). Cybill Shepard shines in this episode, particularly in her singing scenes, while Bruce Willis seems out of place. I still think this is a terrific (as well as ambitious) episode, just one I rarely go back to. It was dedicated to Orson Welles, who filmed a brief introduction to explain to the audience that the episode would be in black & white (even then I thought this was absurd— did TV execs think that 1985 audiences were that unsophisticated?). However, because of the silliness of such a necessity, Orson Welles was given a primetime platform to essentially say goodbye— the greatest director of the black-and-white era, espousing the need to take an artistic chance.

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