Boink, boink, boink, boink.

UK channel: BBC One
66 episodes

Cast: Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd, Alyce Beasley, Curtis Armstrong

This week’s Throw Back Thursday features a series from the 1980s that referenced the smart-talking private dick movies from the 30s and 40s and catapulted them into the glamorous modern age.

(This is a series that boasted a black-and-white dream sequence in series two, which playfully aped The Postman Always Rings Twice, no less)

A then-unknown Bruce Willis played the perma-smirking private detective David Addison and Cybill Shepherd (often shot in gauzy soft filter to pay homage the noir stars of yesteryear) was Maddie Hayes, an ex-model who had invested in numerous companies and was now broke, swindled out of her fortune. One of these ill-advised investments was the Blue Moon detective agency – on its heels and ready for the chop.

But seeking new direction in her life, Addison – never short of a quip or 700 – persuaded her to come on board and make it a profitable exercise.

Together they formed an irresistible chalk-and-cheese partnership – constantly bickering, constantly talking over each other, and constantly prodding and pushing each other’s buttons. In what was no surprise to anyone, they eventually fell for each other.

Addison and Hayes were the archetypal will-they-won’t-they pairing. What strikes you watching it back today, is that bubbling under all the smart talk (and there was a lot of smart talk) was sensitivity, insecurity and vulnerability.

What propelled their relationship, their special frisson, were the cases themselves. A sense of shared experience, of begrudgingly caring for each other if one was in danger, and insane jealousy of the other got closer to another person were de rigeur. These cases were mystery-of-the-week and sometimes paper-thin but often original and intriguing nonetheless. A radio talk show host who faked his own death? Yep.  A woman in a veil hiring them to track down an ex-boyfriend who threw acid on her face in a fit of anger, who was actually an imposter? Check. Maddie’s own mother hiring them to find out if her husband is having an affair? Why, of course.

All these elements made for an irresistible watch.

But all was not well behind the camera. While Willis and Shepherd sizzled onscreen – and became globally famous because of their insane chemistry – the pair, who are reportedly difficult to work with, was not friends when the camera stopped rolling.

“It’s hard to do a show and keep your relationships with everybody,” Shepherd told Entertainment Weekly in 2005. “I remember at one point in the show, it had gotten to where we just hated each other.”

Remarkably, you couldn’t tell and Willis became a huge star because of this series.

Why we loved it.
Even though Moonlighting didn’t exactly challenge gender stereotypes, it was the closest thing we’ve ever had to Philip Marlowe and Vivian Rutledge on the small screen.

Sometimes (or most of the time, depending on where you were coming from) Willis’s smirking and corny jokes were too much and too annoying, but when the script flowed the rat-a-tat dialogue was something to behold.

It’s been reported that because of these trademark scenes in which two or more characters were talking at length simultaneously, the scripts were typically two to three times as long as a script for a similar hour-long drama.

The cases were just about interesting enough, but Moonlighting really was about Willis and Shepherd.

There was another love story being played out – that of secretary Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) and co-worker Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong), who were as sweet and as beta as Addison and Hayes were ballsy and alpha.

Watching Moonlighting back now, some of it hasn’t aged well but a lot of it feels groundbreaking and without doubt paved the way for other mismatched, will-they-won’t-they series to come.

What they said about it:
“Nowadays, we’re used to self-parody, to actors stepping out of character, to nod-and-wink allusions and other such postmodern tricks. But when Moonlighting did all this three decades ago it was groundbreaking – not to mention thrillingly entertaining. Self-referential, full of arch humour and smirking asides, the show didn’t just break the fourth wall – it pretty much invited you to join in,” Darragh McManus, The Guardian

Did you know?
Bruce Willis was the last of around 3,000 actors to audition for the role of David.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Serendipity? I was only thinking about this series on Wednesday! Why? Who knows – but odd moments came to mind: Bruce Willis-with-hair singing Under the Boardwalk, as he turned up to a case, shirt tails flying, and having partied all night.
    That sort of thing. Enjoyed it at the time for its quirkyness.


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