Saturday, June 16, 2012

Steele Smashing

Remington Steele (1982-1987)
Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason
Starring Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist
Featuring Doris Roberts

There's not much to recommend the eighties, that decade of rampant greed, big ugly hair, and garish fashion.  But there were a couple of bright spots for me:  my daughter's birth in 1981 and in 1982 the premiere of Remington Steele.  A vehicle for Stephanie Zimbalist, Remington Steele instead made a star of Pierce Brosnan.  Rumor has it there was much jealousy over the "bags and bags" of fan mail that Brosnan received.  How could anyone care about something as trivial as mail when she's lucky enough to work with Remington Steele, er, Pierce Brosnan?  Those piercing blue eyes and black hair.  That tall thin physique that clothes hung so well on.  That English accent with shades of Ireland.  Pierce Brosnan plays a rakish international jewel thief/art thief/pickpocket--just when you thought he couldn't be any hotter--who steps into the shoes of the imaginary Remington Steele and goes straight.

You see Laura Holt (Zimbalist) is a woman detective in a man's world.  Nobody takes her seriously, so she invents a male superior.  Now she's got clients lined out the door.  They all want to meet the mysterious Remington Steele, but, she tells them, "Mr. Steele works best in an advisory capacity."  In Episode One, The Remington Steele Detective Agency is hired to transport some rare gems, and the client insists on meeting Mr. Steele.  Pierce Brosnan's character, a charming career thief whose real name is not revealed, is posing as South African Special Agent Ben Pearson.  Evading some thugs leads to his assuming the Remington Steele identity.

When Laura does some detective work in "Pearson's" hotel room to learn his true identity, she discovers five passports, all with five different aliases, aliases which, she realizes, are all characters from Humphrey Bogart movies. Our charming con man cum Remington Steele is obsessed with classic cinema and turns to old movies repeatedly throughout the series to help solve their cases.  In the second episode he employs The Thin Man dinner scene to expose the killer of his good friend Wallace, a reformed criminal who was running a mission at the time of his death.  Says Remington of Wallace, "He was a nice man--and a hell of a burglar."

Remington Steele was the first detective show to blend romance, comedy, and mystery, often drawing from screwball comedies and film noir of the thirties and forties.  It was the first television program to employ the "will they or won't they" romantic device that has become so common in both television drama and comedy.  Think Niles and Daphne in Frasier.  Maddie and Davis in Moonlighting, the Remington Steele rip off.  In Season Two, Remington Steele acquires Mildred Krebbs (Doris Roberts aka Marie Barone of Everybody Loves Raymond) a middle-aged IRS employee who comes to work as a secretary/junior detective.  Mildred stands in for the every woman in the audience.  She's excited to find herself in the P.I. world.  Although she's over 50 and too old for Remington Steele, she's as captivated by him as anyone and fondly and reverently calls him "Boss."  Laura she treats as a mere coworker.

These days Stephanie Zimbalist works mostly in live theater.  Pierce Brosnan, who for a time was James Bond, still acts in films, though now he usually plays somebody's mean dad.  Still I go to all his movies, and I remember when he was Remington Steele.  For me--and Marge Simpson and probably countless women of a certain age--Brosnan will always be Remington Steele.   I remember how young he once was.  And I am reminded of how young I once was.

Click on links below to buy from Amazon:

Remington Steele: Season One
Remington Steele - Season Two
Remington Steele: Season Three
Remington Steele: Seasons Four & Five
Remington Steele - Seasons 1-5


  1. Whatever happened to Stephanie Z.? I'd forgotten about her until I read this. -T

    1. All I know is that she does theater out in California. I never see her in t.v. or on film any more.