Moonlighting, Season 3 Episode 11: Blonde on Blonde

written by Kerry Ehrin
directed by Jay Daniel
series created by Glenn Gordon Caron

(i had decided long ago that i wouldn't write reviews. but, hell, this deserves something as excessively overwrought as everything that follows. if you have a low tolerance for bad puns, melodrama and cliche, steer clear of this post.)

ever since the show went off the air, i always assumed that when i ever found my way back to the Blue Moon Detective Agency, my fave episode would be Atomic Shakespeare, Maddie (Cybill Shepherd, in full-on Cybill Shepherd mode) and David (Bruce Willis as we'll never see him again: with a full head of hair at the start of the series--which, btw, he lost progressively with each ep) taking on the roles of The Bard's Kate and Petruchio. ('Didn't think I could pull it off, did you?') but four episodes later (with, admittedly, a couple low-fizzlers in the mix), they knock my socks off with Blonde on Blonde, and a better summary of the show's conceit i have yet to find (or only rediscover).

we start off with what looks to be a pretty straightforward pea-in-a-cup mixer: a couple hot blondes playing off each other in alternating scenes to Janet Jackson's Nasty, both of 'em drop-dead gorgeous lookers. remember when MTV was edgy? already we have an idea where this is all headed: by the end of the show, both bombshells will have dropped killer secrets, but only one of them will have dealt Dave a fatal blow. (see?!? melodrama!)

the show always excelled in subverting all the cliches of hardboiled detective fiction (and other genres besides), and this ep does it better than most. in one scene, after having tailed Maddie to the neighborhood grocer's, we get an extreme close-up of Dave: almost flush with the slightly fisheyed lens, almost filling the screen, his cold, damaged eyes looming in the foreground. the perspective further diminishes Herbert Viola (Revenge of the Nerds' Booger, Curtis Armstrong) who stands earnestly behind him. Bert tells him some people in the office think there may be a 'personal thing' between their two bosses. does that have anything to do with what they're doing here?

'You have been laboring under a severe delusion, my friend,' Dave tells Bert in a pitch-perfect Bogeyesque deadpan. 'What we're doing is simply covering a fellow operative without said operative knowing what we're doing here.'

who does he think he's fooling? but he pulls a spook story about some terrorist escaped from a jail in Cairo who's heading out to La-La Land, pulls it right out his ass, fully formed like, as if he had Borges' library somewhere deep inside his bowels, and reels poor Bert in.

nevermind that Herbert 'Smaller than a cello, bigger than a violin' Viola eventually gets left behind and forgotten by Kerry Ehrin when, almost exactly halfway through the ep (if not halfway exactly) the switcheroo is pulled, and Dave ends up tailing the wrong blonde.

we saw this coming, we see this sort of thing pulled all the time, and if you don't take too kindly to knowing jabs in the ribs from the off-camera crew (even from castmembers throwing winks across the fourth wall), the whole thing will no doubt seem, well, laborious. as per the requirements of any ubermensch of the hardboiled genre, Dave has one of the worst nights of his life, waking up next to a dead body, jumping down two stories into a garbage bin, even landing himself in the joint. and in the end he'll be left standing in the rain.

for those of you who haven't seen the show, well, i'm not spoiling any more of it for you. but even for those like me who know how it will all end, there's a lot more to be found on a second, maybe even a third viewing. Glenn Gordon Caron hated detective shows, once even had his characters say there were too many of the kind on TV those days, but you wouldn't know it from the way everything is done here. the show is the perfect homage to the genre, taking the most familiar, most facile elements of hardboiled detective fiction, of pulp, using cinematography that harks back to the heyday of noir...takes it all and uses it as nifty packaging--that's right, damn pretty gift wrapping is what it all is--and it somehow isn't insulting at all. despite the pastiche/parody treatment, the genre is somehow elevated, and in the end the show uses those kitschy and cliched elements to tell an almost excessively romantic (despite always keeping its head down, low-key and, unlike this post, anti-melodramatic), startlingly humane--and yes, still somehow immediate--Story.

but maybe that's just me. i've been in love with Maddie and Dave since the first time i laid eyes on 'em, one dark and stormy Sunday* night.

*the show aired Tuesdays in the US, but i remember it was past bedtime Sunday nights back home.

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