Moonlighting With
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Chicago Tribune

November 3, 1987 Tuesday, SPORTS FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 742 words


BYLINE: By Steve Daley.


Now that it's just about history, we all should get together once in a while, maybe over a wine cooler, and remember how much we all liked "Moonlighting."

Sure, Nielsen ratings for ABC's Tuesday-night escapade remain solid, even with the inevitable appearance of the season's first rerun last week. But the fun at the Blue Moon Detective Agency is over. A few weeks into its third full season, the ballad of Dave and Maddie is scratchy, discordant and all but incomprehensible.

Pack up the limbo stick, stow the Three Stooges' imitations, turn out the light; the caper's over. It was fun while it lasted. Those shouting matches, the preposterous chase scenes, the smoldering glances from Maddie, the talk-to-the-audience stunts, the dialogue that, at its apex, evoked nothing so much as Nick and Nora Charles gone to L.A.; "Moonlighting" held the promise of becoming the best prime-time show of the 1980s. It was that good.

But ever since Dave bedded Maddie, or maybe since actor Mark Harmon showed up last year as Sam, the astronaut-hunk with long-standing designs on the blond's affections, "Moonlighting" has been about as much fun as, well, "thirtysomething."

The current plot morass, born of the long-awaited, clumsy and downbeat sexual consummation of Dave's ardor and Maddie's anxiety, has our swaggering hero bashing cars in schoolboy frustration. Maddie holes up in her parents' house in Chicago, folding and re-folding her arms, and going dewy-eyed. Who are these people?

In the real world, of course, actress Cybill Shepherd was filming this season's early episodes while carrying real-life twins, now born. And, for that blessed event, hurrah. But between the ill-timed and ill-disguised pregnancy and the dissolution of Bruce Willis' character, the producers pushed their product into television oblivion.

When the architects of the show decided to fulfill David Addison's wish to "get horizontal" with his partner, they should have told us "Moonlighting" was going to get horizontal with them, and expire. There are reasons for the precipitous decline in the quality of the show, of course. Some of them are worth ignoring. Rumors of fractious behavior among cast members will be left to the staff of People magazine. Reports of friction on the "Moonlighting" set last year grew as tiresome as Bruce Willis' singing career.

From the beginning, in March, 1985, you had the feeling that "Moonlighting" was destined to be a comet, a speed horse rather than a plodder. It wasn't likely to run seven or eight seasons at a high level, like a "Hill Street Blues" or "Mary Tyler Moore."

In an interview two years ago, executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron admitted that from week to week, the story line tended to finish far up the track in the minds of the writers and producers. "Moonlighting's" madcap energy, its obvious lack of respect for the conventions of prime-time, delivered that message.

Few devotees cared about continuity in terms of the murder committed, the bad guy apprehended, the case closed. "Remington Steele" was around for those viewers with a taste for pretty people engaged in problem-solving.

No, what we craved were one-liners, the bon mots, the tacky innuendo, the moments: Maddie eyeing David with contempt for his singing: "You sound like Ricky Nelson." Dave, thunderstruck: "Ricky Nelson? He's white!"

What wasn't predictable was that the characters, the saving grace of the show, would wind up as somebody else: Who's that wimpola guy standing in the rain outside Maddie's door, pining away? Can't be David Addison. What is Maddie Hayes doing home with the folks, staring at the telephone? None of the things the protagonists in "Moonlighting" are doing these days make any sense in terms of the characters we've warmed to. It's as if the writers and producers lost contact with David and Maddie as Willis and Shepherd got further away.

The continuity problems were never in the story lines. The problems developed, at least in part, when all concerned forgot who these characters were. This year's Addison is lethargic, whiny and mean-spirited. Worst of all, he's not funny.

Maddie Hayes, possessed of considerable panache and even better legs, has been reduced to a zombie-like role that could be handled with ease by, say, Shelley Long. And the one thing "Moonlighting" never could be was mediocre. Which is where it is right now. It was fun while it lasted. Home Page


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