Today, we look at how the premiere of Moonlighting was an exceptionally tightly written debut for the series.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
In the world of television, good TV pilots are fascinating little things. This is because a good TV pilot does not necessarily a good TV series make. It’s one of the strangest little things, where the first episode of a series being really good doesn’t always speak to the quality of the series as a whole. This is often because the first episode is sometimes treated like a little movie (often, they’re even two hours long) and they sometimes have bigger budgets than the rest of the series.
Sometimes, though, those great pilot episodes foretell a great TV series, and in the case of Moonlighting, I think that that is definitely the case, but in a lot of ways, I think the pilot might even be sharper than a typical episode of Moonlighting. One of the big critiques of Moonlighting is that it eventually got TOO loose. The joking stuff was HUGE at the time, practically revolutionary (I think I’ll write a piece of just HOW dramatic the effect Moonlighting had on TV in the near future), and yet, as with a lot of other concepts that were revolutionary when they debuted, there was almost a sense of it being TOO revolutionary, in that the show sort of went back to the same well a bit too often.
That’s a small critique, though, as Moonlighting, in general, is a great show, but it’s worth noting that it was rarely ever as tight as in its first season, and that first episode is as tight of a story as anything in the series’ run.
The March 1985 pilot, written by show creator Glenn Gordon Caron, and directed by the late, great Robert Butler (the man who said, as I noted in this old TV Legends Revealed, “Hey, what if, instead of Remington Steele just being a fictional character, he is instead INTENDED to be fictional, but then a dude shows up saying that he IS Remington Steele?”) sets up the brilliantly clever concept of the series. Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd), a famous model, has all of her liquid assets stolen by her business manager. All she has left is her NON-liquid assets, including a number of small businesses that she owns as tax shelters. Her accountant tells her that she has to quickly sell off the small businesses, but when she goes to sell off the detective agency she owns, David Addison (Bruce Willis), the guy who runs the agency, tries to convince her not to sell, and then they get caught up in an elaborate scheme involving Nazi diamonds, and in the end, they have saved the day and Maddie decides she will keep the agency, but run it WITH David, and hilarity (and romance) ensues.
The series was intended to be a modern day update on the old romantic comedy mystery banter films like His Girl Friday and The Thin Man, where the romance is a centerpiece of the film, but so is the mystery and so is the banter between the romantic leads. That was what Moonlighting was about, and in Shepherd and Willis, the show got essentially two movie star quality actors with dynamic chemistry. Paired with clever scripts, the series was an utter delight.
But it was particularly delightful in those early, tight episodes, where there was still room for some wacky stuff (they literally do a sort of silent movie slapstick thing with a ladder hanging from a building, and Maddie hanging from a giant clock hand), but it was relatively restrained, and better supported (and not just sort of out of nowhere like the show sometimes would do).
If all we had was just that first episode, we’d have had an entertaining TV movie that people would still remember fondly to this day (and would probably have been remade and/or turned into a TV series, since there was so much there to work with), but luckily, we had a lot more than just the first episode. The first episode was still great, though!
Thanks to Bill Walko for suggesting this one!
Okay, if I’m going to have 355 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!