“Try this for a deep dark secret,” says Laura Holt in the opening narration of the ’80s detective show, Remington Steele. As was pretty common at the time, the voice over does an excellent job of summing up the plot of the show that ran from 1982 to 1987.
“The great detective Remington Steele? He doesn’t exist. I invented him. Follow,” she goes on. “I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so… feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm… until the day HE walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele’s identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows. It’s a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don’t even know his real name!”
It’s no surprise that viewers tuned in week after week to watch Laura Holt and the man who took on the identity of Remington Steele solve mysteries. It was not only that the episodes were very well written, the most important factor is that it featured two dynamic leads. The mystery of the week almost came in second to Laura and Remington’s relationship.
In many ways, Remington Steele mirrored many vintage films by featuring a pair of sophisticated, clever people drawn to each other and solving cases. Many other shows have tried a similar formula, but Remington Steele achieved it exceptionally well, paying homage to its classic roots literally and figuratively in many ways. If you’re wondering if you should give this show a try, wonder no more. You need only peruse my list of reasons this show is perfect for classic romantic comedy fans.
SIX REASONS TO WATCH REMINGTON STEELE
#1 The Characters
Laura Holt played by Stephanie Zimbalist is our heroine, and she’s a fabulous one. She’s capable, quick thinking, sophisticated and brave. She’s more than capable of running her own detective agency, but she must resort to using a man as a cover to ensure its success. Only someone as clever and audacious as Laura Holt can manage such a risky venture. Ironically, while she plays the woman supporting the great Remington Steele and is often dismissed and passed over by clients, Remington looks to her for guidance and direction as he has no detective skills. She’s exciting to watch as she competently leads the way using her brain, but never hesitating to run down a suspect or jump into a fight if she thinks she can help.
“A female private investigator seemed so… feminine.”
In many ways, Remington is her only weakness. If anyone finds out who he really is, there could be repercussions that would destroy her business. She is also deeply attracted to him, leaving her constantly conflicted about how far she should go with him while she wants to do what’s best for herself and her career. The fact that she almost exclusively calls him Mr. Steele while he nearly always calls her Laura (except when he’s exasperated with her) is a subtle reminder of the nebulous boundaries of their relationship.
Pierce Brosnan’s Remington Steele is equally fascinating. People often speak of his time on the show as a precursor to his role as James Bond. There are certainly some action elements which might have translated well to the Bond franchise, but Remington is much more like the charming gentleman thief we know and love in many stories. He first meets Laura when she is trying to protect some jewels from possible thieves by a client. This handsome stranger turns out to be a well-known and skilled thief himself with several fake identities. He takes on the identity of Remington Steele as a convenient way to evade others searching for him. It’s his smooth, adaptive, rakish manner that gets him through.
“…until the day HE walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past.
Intrigued by Laura and content to stay in a comfortable situation, for now, he easily plays the role of the sophisticated gentleman. He is uncannily good at entertaining clients and allaying their concerns with charming aplomb. In the middle of fierce action, he’s good in a fight but also quite likely to be squeamish and alarmed if things get too scary. He’s the sort that would try to knock down the door for you to help someone in trouble, but he’ll definitely be wincing and rubbing his arm afterward.
If Steele put out a personal ad, he’d be sure to list his love of fine wines, impeccable suits, cultural events, vintage movies and women who like the same things. His past life, shrouded in mystery, fascinates Laura (and us viewers) while also providing ample opportunities for them to come across his old friends and foes to cause complications.
Together, the two formed a fascinating duo. Even if the overall plot of an episode doesn’t grab you, you’re sure to keep watching to see the Laura and Remington interaction as they figuratively dance around each other either bickering, working together or flirting.
#2 The Banter
The back and forth between these two is just amazing. It’s an excellent throwback to the rapid-fire dialogue you hear between the leads in classic comedies. The writers don’t try to lower the level of the dialogue. They are both quick witted and intelligent and they have the vocabularies to prove it.
True to the style of the show, there are lots of innuendoes and double entendre being thrown around, but it is never ever overt and vulgar.
“Do you always do things on such a grand scale?” Laura asks Remington when they first meet and he sends a magnum of champagne to her table. “Only when I’m aroused…with curiosity,” he replies and their exchanges never get much spicier than that.
The constant verbal sparring works well in suggesting intense feelings without getting too risque. Whether it’s because of the producers’ preference or to avoid being censored, the result can often be more provocative than much more overt storytelling. Therefore a heated exchange between Laura and Steele can end up being sensuous. Mostly there are only passionate (though steamy) kisses and without either of them saying anything gauche or removing anything more than probably one of Remington’s perfectly tailored jackets.
#3 The Slow Burn Romance
For five seasons, Laura and Remington danced around each other, and anyone who loves this kind of sustained sexual tension will love it. Most of the time Steele is willing to push their relationship to the next level, and practical Laura is tempted but calls a halt. Of course, when it looks like she’s going to give in, something usually interrupts them. This, of course, can get a bit silly sometimes. “Someone always shoots at us when we’re kissing!” says Remington in exasperation in one episode.
But the tense and tender scenes that go with this type of development (and lack of) can be as enjoyable and satisfying as any relationship consummation. It’s why many shows still play with his “will they” or “won’t they” dynamic. Remington and Laura still get to share many kisses and tender, heated moments as well as loaded, romantic exchanges. For instance, one night when Laura is distraught after an attempt on her life she experiences a rare moment of vulnerability. “Tonight, if you asked me… I don’t think I could say no,” she says. He replies, “Tonight, I don’t think that I could ask.”
I’d wager that most viewers won’t be too disappointed if you get to enjoy scenes like this in many episodes.
#4 The Comedy
You’ll never see a very dark episode of Remington Steele. If you’re looking for something edgy and disturbing, you’ll have to look elsewhere. More often than not, you’ll find yourself grinning if not occasionally laughing out loud.
Besides their aforementioned witty dialogue, expect to find very subtle humor as well as broader doses of laughs. There’s room for various hijinks like a send-up of the movie It’s A Mad, Mad World with various characters chasing around town in pursuit of a valuable…chocolate chip cookie recipe. There’s the time Remington tries to get himself committed to an insane asylum they’re investigating by pretending to think he’s a dog. At one point, Remington and Laura place a bet to see who has become the better detective. The competition allows getting ahead by any means necessary and the two go all out to hilariously outwit each other, throwing cunning obstacles in each other’s way.
You’re watching a romantic comedy here. Even though most episodes involve a murder, they are rarely treated as anything horrifying. It’s the typical old-fashioned catalyst to get the fun of the plot going.
#5 The Clothes
I’m no fashion expert, Laura’s clothing is as sophisticated and cools as she is. The show is made in the ’80s of course and sometimes the outfits are clearly of that era. Very often, Laura’s outfits have a classic quality, hearkening back to classic films and even paying tribute to them like when she wears a jaunty hat.
An expert in menswear would probably have a field day analyzing Remington’s suits. I don’t think he’s ever worn the same one in a row. If there is any man born to look good in a suit, it’s Pierce Brosnan, and the show runners knew how to take advantage of his special super power. Mr. Steele is nearly always in a perfectly tailored outfit which he wears with the ease of any gentleman in a 1940s movie. The few times when he ends up disheveled or in casual wear because of a need for disguise are fun to look out for in contrast. The suits are a joy in themselves.
“Try this for a deep dark secret.”
#6 The Mysteries
Believe it or not, I’m not usually a mystery fan, so the specific mystery plot of each episode is not always my main priority. Even though the show does mystery quite well. Several episodes are literally a tribute to classic films. Remington is a huge movie fan. Devoid of any other knowledge of sleuthing, he often draws conclusions about the cases they must solve based on old movie plots much to Laura’s annoyance.
“By the way, where did you get this stuff on amnesia?” she queries in one episode.
“Spellbound?” he says. “Yes, I was, actually.” “Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Selznick International, um 1945,” he explains accessing his encyclopedic movie trivia knowledge. “Why do I ask?” mutters Laura. She can’t deny though that sometimes his analogies work. Other times they don’t, but the result is sure to be entertaining.
The writers were clearly huge fans themselves and like Remington drew inspiration from classic movies. For instance of course when Steele breaks his leg, he eventually finds himself with his cast and in his dressing gown being stalked by a murderer like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. There’s also the episodes which mirror My Fair Lady and The Maltese Falcon or even when they meet classic film stars Virginia Mayo and Dorothy Lamour while Steele “fanboys” over meeting his idols.
“It’s a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done.”
If you’re a fan of slow burn romantic comedy, screwball plots, classic movies and light murder mysteries, you’re in for a treat with this show. Grab the DVDs and settle down for a fun, satisfying, romantic romp in every episode.
Remington Steele is available to buy on DVD as well as watch on Netflix DVD. You can also stream the first three seasons on Hulu and buy/rent the first two seasons on Amazon Video.
Photos by 20th Century Fox Television