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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Moonlighting - Season 3
Moonlighting - Season 3
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // February 7, 2006
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Eric D. Snider | posted February 13, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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THE SHOW

Here's what struck me most about "Moonlighting" as I watched the Season 3 DVD set: how slow it is.

This is the show, you'll recall, that was famous in the mid-80s for being fast-paced and verbose, with pages and pages of dialogue for its stars, sometimes so much that the episodes couldn't be finished in time for their scheduled airdates. But watching it now, I'm stunned at how much padding and stalling there is.

Of course, it's probably no slower than other crime/detective/cop shows of its day. Nowadays, in the fast-paced 21st century, our hour-long dramas have at least two plots in each episode -- an A Story and a B Story -- and the stories usually pivot on several twists before they're done. TV in general is more densely packed today than it was 20 years ago.

In addition, this was the season where the show's behind-the-scenes problems began to catch up with it. Where the first two years had David and Maddie in practically every scene together, slowing down production, Season 3 began to include more scenes without them. "The Man Who Cried Wife" (No. 2 of the season) begins with that week's client killing his spouse, and it's 8 1/2 minutes before we actually see the show's stars.

(Again, nowadays that prologue is usually no more than two or three minutes. Did "Moonlighting" do it to kill time and give its stars a break from filming for a couple days? Or was this kind of slow-moving plotting par for the course in the '80s? Someone hand me a "Murder, She Wrote" DVD and we'll see.)

To be fair, there are scenes of lightning-fast dialogue and clever wordplay between model-turned-detective Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and her freewheeling partner David Addison (Bruce Willis). It's no more than a few minutes per episode, but it's there.

When the show focuses on its mystery-of-the-week business, it gives David and Maddie some chances to spar but in general is unimaginative, story-wise. It's when the show breaks out into other ideas that it asserts its brilliance.

For example, "Atomic Shakespeare," which casts the "Moonlighting" characters as figures in "Taming of the Shrew," is rightfully one of the series' most legendary episodes. It's hysterically zippy, a mix of cartoony sound effects and Mel Brooks-style gags that are as funny today as they were 20 years ago. You watch something like this and you're inclined to overlook slow episodes like the season-opener "The Son Also Rises." (The only plot for 50 full minutes? David is upset to realize he once had a one-night stand with his father's fiancee.)

The very next episode, "It's a Wonderful Job," has Maddie imagining what her life would be like if she had sold the Blue Moon Detective Agency in the first episode. Once again, breaking out of the box helps the show find laughs and energy.

The last five episodes of the season deal with Sam (Mark Harmon), who is Maddie's suitor, David's rival, and the catalyst for Maddie and David FINALLY sleeping together. In the meantime, the show's self-referential jokes are on overdrive, particularly those emphasizing how rarely they were producing new episodes. Gossip columnist Rona Barrett shows up to investigate in one episode; People magazine TV critic Jeff Jarvis introduces another; in one, fans on the street are interviewed to see what they remember about what's happening in the storyline. These bits serve a dual purpose: They catch the audience up on the story so far, but they also kill time.

Does the show stand up over time? Some episodes yes, some episodes no. Fans of the series (of which I am one) are bound to smile as they remember the behind-the-scenes stories, and to chuckle occasionally at what actually made it into the screen.

Here are the episodes:

"The Son Also Rises" (9/23/86) - David's father announces he's getting married, and David is not pleased to see who the blushing bride is.

"The Man Who Cried Wife" (9/30/86) - A man hires David and Maddie to find his wife, who has been calling him on the phone -- which surprises him, because he thought he killed her.

"Symphony in Knocked Flat" (10/14/86) - David and Maddie each schedule an evening of what they consider an ideal evening for the other one.

"Yours, Very Deadly" (10/28/86) - A woman hires the detectives to make sure the man she's been having a love affair with via letter realizes it's over.

"All Creatures Great and ... Not So Great" (11/11/86) - A priest hires the detectives to find a woman he only knows from his confessional.

"Big Man on Mulberry Street" (11/18/86) - David has to go New York to attend the funeral of his ex-wife's brother -- waitaminute, EX-WIFE?!? Maddie freaks out.

"Atomic Shakespeare" (11/25/86) - "The Taming of the Shrew," with the "Moonlighting" principals in the lead roles.

"It's a Wonderful Job" (12/16/86) - Maddie imagines life if she had sold the detective agency.

"The Straight Poop" (1/6/87) - Rona Barrett investigates possible discord at the detective agency. I smell a clip show!

"Poltergeist III -- Dipesto Nothing" (1/13/87) - Agnes tries to solve a haunted-house mystery.

"Blonde on Blonde" (2/3/87) - David follows Maddie around, suspecting she's up to something -- and he gets tangled up in a murder.

"Sam & Dave" (2/10/87) - David and Maddie spy on a man for his mistress, who thinks he's cheating on her with his wife.

"Maddie's Turn to Cry" (3/3/87) - Maddie is torn between Sam and David.

"I Am Curious ... Maddie" (3/31/87) - Sam confronts Dave about Maddie; Dave and Maddie finally do it.

"To Heiress Human" (5/5/87) - It's the Morning After, and Maddie just wants to focus on their new case, where a woman wants proof her fiance loves her and not her money.

THE DVD

All 15 episodes from Season 3 are included, complete and uncut. (As long as 50 minutes, in some cases!) Those 15 episodes are on four discs, dispersed 4/4/4/3, with the fourth disc containing a bonus feature, too.

They're packaged in a cardboard cover with two plastic CD-jewel-case-style trays inside. That material is rather prone to shattering and cracking (as you know if you've ever owned a CD), so be aware of that.

A booklet gives the episode titles and descriptions, but not the original airdates.

There are no subtitles or alternate language tracks.

VIDEO: The full-frame DVD transfer is not pristine (there are some specks here and there), but it's good, if slightly murky in some of the darker scenes.

AUDIO: Standard non-stereo mid-'80s drama sound. It's good enough for our purposes.

EXTRAS: The primary extras are audio commentaries on four episodes. Only "Atomic Shakespeare" has Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, however. They're in a good mood, chatting jovially about their scenes together, but offering little insight into the frostiness (her) and arrogance (him) that caused such trouble behind the scenes.

They are chaperoned on that one by creator Glenn Gordon Caron and producer Jay Daniel, who are often silent and who even apologize for that fact.

Daniel comments by himself on "Big Man on Mulberry Street" and is much more talkative and informative that time (though still omitting any good dirt, naturally).

"The Straight Poop" has a twist: The commentary is by four fans of the show who run various "Moonlighting" Web sites. They're all women, and they sure are a chatty bunch o' gals! Since they're fans and not insiders, they can comment on the absurd decision to shoot Shepherd in gauzy soft light all the time, and on Willis' male-pattern baldness.

Finally, the episode "Sam and Dave" has commentary by Glenn Gordon Caron and Mark Harmon, who appeared in a four-episode arc that ended with Dave and Maddie finally sleeping together. Harmon fawns all over Caron for creating such a brilliant show; neither man says much of interest.

The other extra is "Memories of 'Moonlighting'" (29:10), a featurette focusing on Season 3's behind-the-scenes shenanigans. New interviews with the directors, producers and writers are included, with Shepherd and Willis on hand, too. Everyone speaks in great depth on the show's notorious procrastination, lateness and last-minute-writing. It's a good, informative summary of the year's travails.

IN SUMMARY

The show may not be as great as you remember it, but Season 3 certainly has some fantastic moments. The show had hit its stride by this time -- to the extent a show that only produces one new episode every three weeks can be said to have a "stride" -- and when it's "on," it's a pleasure.

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