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Why you need to watch and appreciate Moonlighting


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Nowadays, self-referential shows have become the norm. Whether it's breaking the fourth wall or referring (and satirising) the conventions of its own genre, it's something that doesn't really enthrall or surprise us anymore; unless it's done in an interesting way. 

But back in the late 80s, self-referential shows were not the norm - until a little show aired on ABC that proceeded to alter the conventions of television. Even though The X-Files was the first show to fully encapsulate the internet and computer era by satirising its sci-fi/horror/supernatural genre, it was Moonlighting that was so entirely meta that it's astounding how a show so complex aired before it's best-suited era; the Internet age.

In fact, it's thanks to Moonlighting that we have The X-Files. Inspired by the screwball comedies of Howard Hawk (Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday), Moonlighting revolved around the Blue Moon Detective Agency and its two partners, Madelyn 'Maddie' Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis).

A former model, Hayes finds herself bankrupt after being embezzled of all her liquid assets by her accountant. Hayes is then left with several failing businesses that served as tax-write-offs; one of them being the City of Angels Detective Agency run by Addison. During the pilot, Addison convinces Hayes to keep the detective agency, later renaming it Blue Moon after the ficticious shampoo company Hayes once worked for as a spokeswoman.

From there, the duo investigate cases brought to the detective agency by an array of clients, bringing the concept of 'dramedy' to television screens through fast-paced, often overlapping dialogue, mystery, romance and comedy.

With Moonlighting you never knew what you were going to get. You could receive the staple who-murdered-who episode, or you could be thrown into an episode focused on a woman who believes she is a leprechaun, enlisting Addison and Hayes to help find her pot of gold. Or it could be the meta-goldmine of an episode about a young boy wanting to watch Moonlighting, but subsequently missing it in order to complete his homework on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, in turn, causing the boy to daydream about the cast of the show performing the play.

There's also the creative interpretation of the 1934 novel (and subsequent films) of The Postman Always Rings Twice in the episode 'The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice' which featured a cameo by Orson Welles - shortly before his death - who opens the episode with an announcement to the viewer. 

Moonlighting isn't really a show that people under the age of 30 will have heard about. It was a relatively short show; airing for only five seasons with 66 episodes in all. But without it, a majority of shows that incorporated detective/investigator duos with a dash of sexual tension would not exist. 

One thing that people of all ages are forever indebted to through Moonlighting, however, is the introduction of Bruce Willis. Moonlighting was Willis' first big break, enabling him to go on to become one of Hollywood's greatest action movie stars, namely for his role in the Die Hard series. The first Die Hard, released in 1988, was Willis' first film since finding his stardom on Moonlighting; with Willis' comedic portrayal of Addison merging into the slightly toned down New York cop John McClane. 

Moonlighting was undoubtedly one of a kind; blessed with perfectionist tendencies of creator Glenn Gordon Caron and simultaneously cursed, due to the sheer amount of time it took to write, direct, shoot and edit an episode. Caron's vision was that himself, the production team and cast were producing a one-hour movie each week.

With the hiring of Geral Finnerman as director of photography, Caron and the team strode to make Moonlighting accentuate the means of production that were only attributed to film; not the small screen. This meant that Caron banned the use of a zoom lens - instead moving his master camera back and forth on tracks - and used diffusion disks to soften Shepherd's features in the same way that directors did in 1940s noir films. 

Even though the show eventually met its demise in May 1989, Moonlighting will forever be felt through the subsequent shows of similar concepts and the genre that followed it. From The X-Files to Castle, Addison and Hayes' sexual tension and banter has become the ultimate template when it comes to writing characters of a similar nature. 

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