Eliminating the Fourth Wall: Metafiction and Moonlighting


In my last post, I discussed Twin Peaks and its subversion of the detective genre through the incorporation of supernatural elements. Another series that does something similar is Moonlighting, an American detective series that follows the investigations of Maddy Hayes and David Addison. However, Moonlighting subverts the conventional detective series differently in that it subverts it through the use of metafiction. Metafiction is when a text foregrounds its own artifice and indeed, there are many instances in which Moonlighting ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and makes references to itself as a television program.

For instance, direct reference is made to the structure of the detective series. When investigating a case, Maddy asks David: ‘What do we do now?’ to which he replies ‘Wrap this up in about twelve minutes so another show can come on the air’.

Similarly, in the Christmas special, David asks Maddy ‘Do you think this is the Christmas episode?’ However, this scene takes the idea of breaking the fourth wall a step further in that it is followed by Maddy and David walking off set to find the production crew singing Christmas carols. Such scenes have led critics to describe the series as eliminating the fourth wall completely. Indeed, there are even episodes in the series that include sequences which show the production crew dismantling sets. In the Season Two finale, for example, Maddy and David walk off the set and into the studio parking lot. Similarly, the last episode of the series is interrupted by the news that the series has been cancelled and the set starts being dismantled around them before they have solved the typical ‘case of the week’. Therefore, not only does Moonlighting break the forth wall but the series seems to dismantle it completely.


Here is a particularly metafictional scene. In it Maddy and David introduce the episode and discuss how the content of it needs to be stretched out in order to fill the required sixty minutes of airtime:


This article provides a further analysis of metafiction and how it operates in film, television and the novel:



Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse. New York: Doubleday, 1968. Print.

Horowitz, Joy. ‘The Madcap Behind Moonlighting.’ The New York Times, Mar. 1986. Accessed 22 Feb. 2015. Web.

Moonlighting. Glenn Gordon Caron. Picturemaker Productions, 1985-1989. Television.

‘Moonlighting’. tvtropes. Accessed 22 Feb. 2015. Web.

Paskin, Willa. ‘Rewind: Celebrating the brilliance of Moonlighting.’ Salon, 9 Mar. 2013. Accessed 22 Feb. 2015. Web.


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