Moonlighting: Season 3 Review
By the time that Moonlighting had reached its third season it had already started a time bomb ticking, with rumours abound that there was on set difficulties and high demands that weren’t being met; and the fans were upset over rescheduling, re-runs and above all not knowing where Maddie and David’s relationship was going. Meanwhile scripts were not being finished on time, Cybil Shepherd fell pregnant and Bruce Willis had a skiing accident. During its run season three amassed fifteen episodes, and this was not to be an easy run by a long shot. The troubles do show and more than ever the producers find themselves hitting back at the media and addressing these problems on a highly personal level.
So by now the whole “will they/won’t they” topic of conversation began to take over the series. The inevitability of David and Maddie getting together was only ever about doing it at the right time. For season three it became its most distracting element. Whether or not the producers would acknowledge it the fact is that Moonlighting bowed to pressure too early. It says to our faces in the most deliberate of ways “Yes it’s coming” – this we see during the episode “The Straight Poop” for example, clearly written to challenge the media, which at this point was helping to fuel rumours that Shepard and Willis were not getting along quite so well. And so David and Maddie are interviewed by then ace reporter Rona Barrett, who questions them over their relationship during a series of flashbacks, which sadly takes the season down to, in effect, just fourteen episodes of actual worthwhile content. Because Moonlighting had always addressed the viewers directly it seemed somewhat natural for it to have to get defensive in order to put their concerns to rest, and while it does admirably try to cover up its troubles it can’t help but be felt that pressures were hitting boiling point. Later on it would again hit back in the most self parodying of ways, with Jeff Jarvis in a pre-credit sequence voicing his distaste over the lack of new episodes.
One of the ways in which the season does well to mix things up is by introducing a new character – Herbert Viola. Curtis Armstrong was drafted onboard to provide a solid counter balance for Allyce Beasley, who was much loved as Dipesto. But Beasley never actually got to do much, aside from get one or two specifically written episodes. Likewise she was always between David and Maddie and rarely did we get to know her on a deeper level. With Viola now frequenting the office we get an additional plotline that sees another two characters struggling to get by in an office environment while sexual tensions fly. But perhaps the most interesting thing here is that Dipesto and Viola’s relationship is handled far better, and in the process is a much warmer and amusing addition. And so while Willis and Shepherd are written out of fairly large portions it’s down to Beasley and Armstrong to carry a few shows, and they do this effortlessly while proving their talents in being to able to carry a show, despite their status as character actors. Curtis Armstrong if anything was the one thing that Moonlighting needed at this point to save it from falling down and never being able to recover; while he gets some excellent moments to shine along with Beasley, their moments together in larger setups don’t last long. And when these characters aren’t dominating episodes like “Poltergeist III – Dipesto Nothing” it’s down to guest stars such as Brad Dourif in “All Creatures Great…and Not So Great” and the absolutely gorgeous Donna Dixon in “Blonde on Blonde” to clean up with a few good moments.
So it’s not too surprising that about ten episodes down the line we get back to David and Maddie for what will be a very long and drawn out series of events. Straying from the tone of the first eight episodes in the season it becomes an almost entirely serious affair, as David and Maggie try to deal with and announce their feelings for one another, amidst a personal crisis in which Maddie is re-united with her old friend Sam - played superbly by the ever likeable Mark Harmon. This love triangle proves to be a test for all involved and indeed it’s well acted all ‘round; there’s no doubting anyone’s talents here. But the problem is that by this point it just doesn’t feel like Moonlighting anymore; it falls into the trap which ultimately ends all good series. The trouble with any show that pits male and female protagonists together is that there’s some bizarre need to actually get them “together”. I always found that what made Moonlighting interesting was that the chemistry was there, but the tension and jovial nature of the series kept it hugely entertaining. We can believe that David and Maddie could get romantically entwined but that doesn’t mean that we needed to see it happen, because when it does the magic is gone, and as season three proves it’s entirely anticlimactic. When all is said and done between these two people there’s a huge sense of unfulfilment, prompting the viewer to think “Oh, was that it?”
It is indeed sad on some level because when it’s good it’s superb. Episodes such as “Atomic Shakespeare” are an absolute joy, reminding us just what made Moonlighting so special in the first place. Putting behind its woes for just a moment the series gets into fun pantomime as the cast takes on the classic tale The Taming of the Shrew, with Bruce Willis in his prime, hitting heights that he’d later follow up on with a string of successful films. Here the cast is given opportunities that many other television shows were not offering, because quite frankly none were as off the wall enough to be able to screw with their own sense of reality. What’s more there was a care free nature about it, so much so that the writers could just throw in a few ninjas and have Willis’s Petruchio fend them off. Without a doubt “Atomic Shakespeare” is not only the best episode of the season, but is also one of Moonlighting’s most defining moments. “It’s a Wonderful Job” follows up nicely with another interesting Christmas tale twist as Maddie is taken on a journey, A Christmas Carol style, and proves to be the last solid episode of season three.
“The Son Also Rises”
“The Man Who Cried Wife”
“Symphony in Knocked Flat”
“Yours, Very Deadly”
“All Creatures Great…and Not So Great”
“Big Man on Mulberry Street”
“It’s a Wonderful Job”
“The Straight Poop”
“Poltergeist III – Dipesto Nothing”
“Blonde on Blonde”
“Sam & Dave”
“Maddie’s Turn to Cry”
“I am Curious…Maddie”
“To Heiress Human”
Lions Gate Home Entertainment presents season 3 in its entirety – uncut with every original song intact in this four disc collector’s set. The packaging is a little unusual; there is no outer sleeve which the box would have greatly benefited in having, because it’s just two jewel style cases (actually four stuck together, a disc per side) in a thin but shiny card cover. There is what appears to be an insert in the back cover of the box, which I presume is meant to hold a booklet, but I never got one so it may just be a gimmicky pop out thing.
Season three looks just about as good as the first two did from last year. As such I shall paste my comments from my previous review, with two slight alterations:
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the series looks better than expected. A little extra effort was made to clean up the prints and the results are impressive. All the signs from an 80’s show are here and have nothing to do with the authoring, such as grain and slight softness in areas, but this really does look great overall. Flesh tones are nice, if a little too pink at times; contrast levels appear natural and blacks and shadow detail are also particularly good, although there is a little noticeable compression during darker moments. I would go far as to say that these have been sourced from original elements and not second or third generation tapes, as there seems to be no evidence of any such thing, which has happened in the past with other shows. Edge Enhancement turns up and aliasing is also present but is very infrequent, along with some mosquito noise during the final credits roll. Certain scenes also exhibit softer appearances, which suggest a different film source being used at the time. The transfer is also interlaced.
The series was originally broadcast in mono and that is what we have here: a 2-channel mono track that is exactly as we would want it. Naturally both front speakers output identical elements, sounding as good as you could hope for. The dialogue throughout is clear and presents little difficulties, with just some slight moments of up and down tone. Not to worry though, it’s always sounded that way and was likely a result of post dubbing. There are still a few obvious moments of overlapping, but these are natural occurrences do to sound being recorded on set.
Lions Gate could have redeemed themselves by providing subtitles for this release, but again they stick with Closed Captions.
There are four commentaries in this collection to be found, though they don’t strictly appear as “special features”; instead you have to find these via the episode selection screens. On disc 2 you’ll find a commentary by producer Jay Daniel for “Big Man on Mulberry Street”, with him turning up again next to Glenn Gordon Caron, Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd for “Atomic Shakespeare”. The tracks here offer a few good moments, and the participants seem to be enjoying themselves but there are plenty of pauses and when it comes to divulging more about what was happening behind the scenes there’s a lot of passiveness, with Willis and Shepherd not really conversing together much on the latter. “The Straight Poop” on disc three offers a fan commentary from Diane Hopkins and Cindy Klauss (davidandmaddie.com). Hazel Hart and Vicky Briasco from moonlightingdvd.com also join in for some fun gossip. The girls certainly are lively and enjoy pointing out things behind the scenes that weren’t mentioned on previous tracks as well as offering insight into the several references contained within the episode. The final track is also on the third disc and has Glenn Gordon Caron chat to Mark Harmon during “Sam and Dave”. This track consists of a lot of back slapping, but both participants are engaging speakers and if anything provide enough fond memories, with Harmon getting into the overall experience about working on the set when compared to his other shows and films.
Memories of Moonlighting (29.10)
This is an entertaining, and at times revealing insight into the production of the third season. Caron is joined by Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd, both of whom say very little, but whose appearence is appreciated as they talk about the many troubles (though maybe not as many as one would like). Elsewhere we have contributions from the production and writing staff, and some small interviews with Alyce Beasley, Curtis Armstrong and Mark Harmon. We learn enough to get an idea of how problematic things were during this period and how the staff pulled together in order to make things work.
Many fans hail Season three of Moonlighting as being the best out of the five produced. I would have to disagree and say that it has more than its fair share of ups and downs. When it’s good it offers some damn fine entertainment and hilarious moments, but when it’s bad it’s boring as hell. The series would never reach the heights of the first two and despite continuing on with some marvellous performances - made all the more amazing by the fact that not all was going well behind the scenes - it struggles almost too hard to get by.