Big Man on Mulberry Street (Season 3, Episode 6)
Original airdate: November 18, 1986
Written by Karen Hall
Directed by Christian I. Nyby II & Stanley Donen
This episode of Moonlighting hits on two aspects of the series at once, the metafictional flights of fancy and the simmer sexual tension between David and Maddie. David once again shows his ass, coming to a meeting with a client hungover. Maddie explodes as expected, but when she comes to David’s office to chew him out, but finds her partner forlorn. A close friend has died, and upon further scrutiny, Maddie learns it is David’s ex-brother-in-law. Maddie becomes obsessed with finding out more about his ex-wife and what led to their break-up. Bruce Willis has a wonderfully dramatic scene where we get to see a lot of David’s vulnerabilities. The icing on this particular cake is a dream/dance sequence of Maddie’s set to a song by Billy Joel and choreographed by the legend Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain). The scene was unlike anything seen on television at the time, production quality, and artistry that had to stun audiences at the time.
Atomic Shakespeare (Season 3, Episode 7)
Original airdate: November 25, 1986
Written by Ron Osborn & Jeff Reno
Directed by Will Mackenzie
Creator Glen Gordon Caron says Moonlighting was inspired by a production of Taming of the Shrew he saw. So, what better way to acknowledge that than to adapt Shakespeare’s play into an episode of the show? The conceit of the episode is that a young boy gets scolded for watching Moonlighting instead of studying for a test he has about Taming of the Shrew. Through his imagination, we get a mash-up written in iambic pentameter that casts Maddie as the titular Shrew and David as her suitor. This is such a brilliant piece of comedy at all levels from slapstick to puns to character interactions, you can tell the cast and crew enjoyed the hell out of making this episode. What Moonlighting does in this episode is a reply to critics who had disdain for the series because of its frequent mixture “highbrow” and crude humor by showing them this is the very foundation of the great works of Western literature. Apparently, Atomic Shakespeare was one of the lowest-rated episodes of the series likely because it presented something challenging, but it remains one of the most ambitious.
The Straight Poop (Season 3, Episode 9)
Original airdate: January 6, 1987
Written by Glen Gordon Caron
Directed by Jay Daniel
Moonlighting was notorious for its on-set disputes at this point. Shepherd and Willis were developing a growing animosity, which is funny as their characters grow closer, especially in this season. Shepherd also clashed with series creator Glen Gordon Caron. Production of episodes fell behind at a certain point, and it was an open-ended question if Moonlighting would actually air something new week to week. Instead of trying to sweep all this under the rug, Caron & company run headlong into confronting the questions and speculation. Famous tabloid reporter of the time Rona Barrett brings her cameraman to the Blue Moon offices to find out why there is no new episode. She interviews Maddie and David, allowing the whole affair to serve as a fancy way of doing a highlights clips episode. This isn’t an episode that moves forward the story of Maddie & David, but it proves as a piece of brilliant satire about the show and the way it was being spoken about in the media.
I Am Curious…Maddie (Season 3, Episode 14)
Original airdate: March 31, 1987
Written by Glenn Gordon Caron, Jeff Reno, Ron Osborn, Karen Hall, Roger Director, and Charles H. Eglee
Directed by Allan Arkush
Eventually, with all “will they? won’t they?” shows you have to decide, “do the leads get together,” or does it fizzle out? This is the episode where Maddie and David after flirting and even kissing finally give in. Some viewers and critics saw this as the death knell of the serious, killing that tension that made each episode simmer. I appreciate that as the relationship developed throughout the following season, both characters realized they were no good together but decided to remain friends. I think that particular choice was a gutsy move. The episode is a highly sexual one, likely shocking at the time it aired. It proves what good actors Shepherd and Willis are because, despite their personal dislike, it feels like the chemistry between them is overflowing.