"I don't like this Alan. I don't like being poor. Poor doesn't become me."
"You know what's really amazing? From the TV commercials, and posters, and billboards, and all that stuff, you never guess what a cold bitch you are."
Moonlighting was a series in the mid to late '80s that was fairly typical for the period's television fare. The look, the clothes, the sounds, the music, everything about it, looking back at the very first Moonlighting from the dawn of the twenty-first century, screams "very '80s." This isn't a bad thing, but rather a descriptive one. Some entertainment consumers are discerning to the point of being unforgiving, and to look back at a modest '80s comedy series from this very media culture, one could easily find numerous points of contention.
Fortunately, I'm not one of those consumers. Further, I suspect there are a lot others out there who aren't one of those either. Face it. Some of the multitude of entertainment consumers out there can't stand nostalgia, the wacky and weird time that was the '80s. But there are many others who have fond memories of the "Me" decade, who think of pastel colored suits, of Rubik's Cubes, and of Flock-of-Seagulls haircuts with a quiet little smile on their lips.
Moonlighting was a series concept that paired the then somewhat known Cybill Shepherd (Cybill, The Muse, The Last Word), and the then completely unknown Bruce Willis (Armageddon, Die Hard, The Sixth Sense) as one of those seemingly endless examples of "unlikely couples" we're always being handed from Hollywood. In this instance, the pairing succeeded, mostly on the back of Willis' considerable charm and, at the time, unrecognized acting talents.
The key for Moonlighting's chemistry was the absolutely incredible find of Willis. Checking his IMDb log as this is written, he had accrued only two roles prior to landing the Moonlighting pilot; and those roles were uncredited. Watching the then thirty-year-old (and painfully young) Willis in this pilot, the flashes that have made him an international box office blockbuster, and one of the best actors who never quite seems to receive any widespread acclaim, are easily seen. The wry grin, the snappy timing, the easy charm. Many who look at action films as just effects and choreography filled chances for studios to make a buck turn their noses up at Willis, but anyone who's actually watched his efforts over the years has seen the talent he commands. For the doubters out there, this is an excellent chance to prove Willis has always been more than an action film "pecs-n-flex" actor.
What about the pilot itself? Well, Moonlighting, as already briefly mentioned, was a very simple concept. Take an unlikely pair; in this instance it's a world famous model (Madeline Hayes, Shepherd) and a charming, private detective (David Addison, Willis). Use their opposite worlds as a source of comedic material, and wrap it all around an ongoing "plot in a can." Episodic television is a difficult medium to write for because you're required to churn out twenty-two episodes per year; an ongoing "dramatic conflict of the week" presentation is a simple way to continue to give the writers ideas for each new episode.
Moonlighting's "plot in a can" was a detective agency owned by Hayes. The pilot opens with Hayes discovering her business managers have absconded with her liquid assets, leaving her without money, and only a list of business all losing money. She is in the process of closing these write-offs up to recover the funds they represent when she bumps into Addison, where he's serving as the manager of the agency.
Her attempt to fire him and everyone is interdicted by Addison's persistent charm and determined efforts to win Maddie over. While engaged in "winning her over" at a restaurant, they stumble into the "plot in a can" for the pilot, which is a matter of a wristwatch pressed into Maddie's hands by a dying punker hired to steal it.
As a television show, Moonlighting was filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Thus, the transfer presented is full frame. It is, however, a remarkably clean transfer, without grit or dirt. Some of the longer shots are a bit fuzzy, but overall this is a very solid transfer from a fifteen-year-old television print. Not reference quality, but neither is it one to be ashamed to put in your DVD deck.
There is no audio information available with the disc, but it sounds like a mono track. The surrounds and low frequency channel aren't used, neither are the discrete fronts. Despite this, all things considered, the sound stage is discernable enough, and dialogue is clear. For a soundtrack without the processing we demand as a matter of course these days, it's not bad.
There's also a fairly personable commentary track included on the disc. Willis, joined by series creator Glenn Gordon Caron (Now and Again, Picture Perfect), reminisces about the series run and the filming. As commentary tracks go, this one has periods of silence, but when they're talking, it's engaging, enlightening, and entertaining. What more could one ask for in a commentary?
As a bonus extra, one that could be a lot of fun if more discs start including it, the screen test Willis recorded during auditions. Willis' talent is easily spotted here, and one can only wonder what would have happened if the creators of Moonlighting had passed on the fledgling actor.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are, unfortunately, some bad points about this disc. The video transfer, while solid and perfectly watchable, even enjoyable, is a bit soft in places. It doesn't have a crisp look to it. This is most likely a fault of the made-for-television masters, but is notable.
The disc engineering, however, is more than a minor negative note. While I have seen discs with far worse engineering, this one is certainly not in the company of greats. The audio commentary is coded to respond only from the menu, disabling your remote's audio button. This is regrettable, and made only that much more infuriating when added to the long load times for the menus; a simple audio switch becomes a twenty second affair with Moonlighting. Unfortunate, though the audio commentary is worth it once you get it running.
All things considered, Moonlighting is a solid disc buy. Fans of the show will love it, especially for the commentary and the screen test, which let them in a little more on the story behind the screen. Those who missed Moonlighting in the '80s might enjoy the chance to have another go at it. And for Willis fans everywhere, this is a great chance to have a look at his early career.
Anchor Bay is reprimanded for making silly and negative disc engineering choices. But they're overall excused for a solid disc. Case dismissed.
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