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Review: Moonlighting - Big Man on Mulberry Street

Updated: Feb 4

If you mention ’Big Man on Mulberry Street’ to an adult of a certain age, they would likely fall into one of two categories - either a Billy Joel fan or a Moonlighting fan. However, what some may not know is the song was written by Joel and was inspired by Moonlighting. Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron heard about this and, in turn, based his episode of the same name around the song. Written by Karen Hall, it is the sixth episode of the third season, airing on the 18 November 1986 (30 March 1987 in the UK), and at a time when Moonlighting was at the peak of its popularity.

Throughout its five-year run, 66 episodes were made and even now, this is still one which resonates with the long-term fans. There’s no ‘murder of the week’, no crime to be solved, and no big chase sequence at its denouement. It wasn’t even an ‘event’ episode such as the Shakespearean ‘Atomic Skakespeare’ or the black and white ‘Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’. Okay, it’s not entirely an ‘event’ episode, but the main reason that this episode was so popular is that it goes back to basics: good old human emotion.

The episode begins as many other episodes do, David shows up late and hungover to a very important business meeting, Maddie is mad at him and a disagreement ensues. However, when Maddie later visits David in his office to inform him that the earlier meeting has been rescheduled, Maddie and the audience find David in a darkened room, and in an equally dark and sombre mood. David tells her that he has to go to New York for a few days and after some relentless pushing from Maddie, he reveals that he is going for the funeral an old friend and “I was sorta married to his sister’.

We don’t see any further exchange between Maddie and David following this revelation, and despite a conversation with Agnes, and a comedic scene of the two women ‘riffling through David’s drawers’ to try and find out more about the ‘former Mrs. Mr. Addison’, Maddie returns home, still in a state of bewilderment.

As she heads to her bed, she instantly falls asleep and we are drawn into her dream in which she pictures David as a New York bar tender where he meets a woman, falls in love and eventually marries her. This is a very generic description of Maddie’s dream and by no means does the sequence justice.

First of all, as previously mentioned, this whole dream is set to the full version of Billy Joel’s ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street’. However, not satisfied with just having that accolade to the episode, series creator Glenn Gordon Caron also ropes in Stanley Donen, the man behind the choreography to Singin’ in the Rain, to set the piece.

Given Bruce Willis is not a dancer, a fact highlighted when he is partnered with Sandahl Bergman as his ‘dream’ wife, the routine still works. Addison isn’t perfect, but he tries and gives it all, much as Willis does through this whole performance. At six and a half minutes long, and with numerous uncut segments, that is no mean feat. And it is incredibly stylish, even now.

In the sequence, we see Maddie’s interpretation of how David and his wife met and how she believes it ended with David being betrayed by his ‘wife’, with her ultimately leaving him for another man. Then, in the final moments of the dream, Maddie herself makes a dramatic entrance at the ‘dream’ bar and it culminates with her passionately kissing David, which in turn startles Maddie awake. Whether it was the dream as a whole, or the intimate finale specifically, this prompts Maddie to fly to New York to be with David.

By the mid 1980’s the dream sequence trope was not a new idea. The 4th episode of Moonlighting’s second season was entirely devoted to Maddie and David’s dream interpretation of a murder in a nightclub in ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’. Dallas even had an entire season which was a dream! It is a tried and tested method which enables a character to realise the extent of their feelings toward another character, without the writers having to immediately act on it and making it canon, but still giving the audience a little nudge as if to say “we know what it is you really want!”

After a night out reminiscing with old friends, David heads back to his hotel room and is stunned to discover Maddie on his bed. She, in turn, is equally surprised that she travelled three thousand miles to be with him. The enormity of her actions suddenly dawns on her and, embarrassed, she stands to leave, but, touched by Maddie’s show of support, he invites her to stay in the room next door.

During the night, David goes to Maddie’s room and they have an intimate conversation where he tells her the story of his past. He explains how he had to get married as he had got his teenage girlfriend pregnant, however, they later lost the baby. He moved to New York with his wife to support her career ambitions but reveals that he found his wife cheating on him and that was why they split.

For all of Moonlighting’s innovation and creativity, it’s the simplicity of these two scenes which really is an opportunity for both actors to shine. In a series where these two formidable characters are frequently talking over the other in an attempt to make themselves heard, in these two scenes, one talks and the other barely says a word. They just listen, and this in itself speaks volumes.

As the episode progresses, David - much to Maddie’s disappointment - heads to the funeral alone. Maddie later decides to follow him there, where she encounters Tess, ‘former Mrs. Mr. Addison’ who reveals she cheated on David with another woman.

As Maddie is having this conversation, David is drinking away his sorrows in a taxi at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, having escaped the funeral. This is another key scene in the character of David Addison and for all his brashness and bravado, David is still hurt and feels betrayed by Tess. He says that ‘a person in bed with your wife is a person in bed with your wife. Gender is not the issue’. For David, I think it is, although he doesn’t admit it. He doesn’t want to admit to himself or to Maddie that in some ways he feels like he was not good enough for Tess as this completely contradicts his ‘normal’ masculine persona so would rather not confront it.

On the plane back to Los Angeles David - unaware that Maddie met Tess - tells her that his ex-wife was there with the man she cheated on him with and they are getting married. Maddie listens sympathetically and goes along with it. She could have confessed that she knew everything, but she doesn’t. She lets him tell his tale and supports him as he speaks it. This was Moonlighting’s strength. As an audience, we want the romance. We want to know that they are there for each other and that they care enough to travel thousands of miles for the other; David did it himself in the season 2 episode ‘Money Talks Maddie Walks’, where he follows her to Argentina after she travels there to confront the man who stole her fortune. This was the Maddie and David we wanted to see develop further.

Karen Hall wrote a masterclass in character development and emotional dialogue within this episode. It gave both Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd an episode of substance to really get their teeth into. In Scott Ryan’s book, Moonlighting: An Oral History, Cybill Shepherd says that the scene when she first arrives in New York is one of the best things she has ever done. It is in episodes such as this where both Willis and Shepherd are given the opportunity to individually shine.

Photos Copyright of ABC Circle Films

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