Revisiting A Classic: Remington Steele

Once a month, I will revisit a classic — take a second look at a film, TV show, record or play that influenced my worldview and others.

Over the holidays, I stayed at a friend’s apartment as I watched his elderly dog Sophie, his brother’s sprightly dog Nico, and Lola, the cat.  The apartment, which is in a lovely part of Manhattan, is spacious and lovely, but lacks a TV.  I spent a lot of time watching Hulu and revisiting the classic 80s show Remington Steele, which made Pierce Brosnan a household name and catapulted him to become James Bond eventually.  But, re-watching the first season, I noticed some things I missed the first time around. Namely Stephanie Zimbalist‘s smart wardrobe and the music, both the opening credits and incidental music.

Zimbalist played Laura Holt, a very competent private investigator whose career went nowhere because of her gender.  She created a fictional male boss Remington Steele, named after a typewriter and her favorite football team, and all of a sudden, clients swarmed her agency.  In the first episode, Pierce Brosnan’s character crosses path with Laura Holt and her colleagues.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, he takes over Remington Steele’s identity, which both intoxicates and infuriates Holt.  Clearly, she’s the brains behind the operation, but he receives all of the credit.

The series ran from 1982 through 1987 on NBC, and season two saw the departure of James Read, who played Holt’s legitimate PI partner Murphy, and Janet DeMay, who portrayed the secretary Bernice Fox (though Remington Steele always called her Ms. Wolf). Doris Roberts, whom I adore, came on board in season 2.

From the very first episode of the first season, the series had an assured quality and featured sexy, tension-filled banter between its stars — Zimbalist and Pierce. The cases often refer to old films, but the real reason to watch was the old school vibe between Holt and Steele.  They were a modern Bogey and Bacall-lite.  Plus, the sexual politics were intriguing — especially how a young woman, whose own mother doesn’t think she’s particularly competent,  navigates a man’s world.  In 1982.

Sure, it’s fun to see the computers that are the size of a house and the carphones in the town car that gets Holt and Steele to their destinations most of the time. And the costumes are simply ravishing with Brosnan in skinny, debonair suits and Zimbalist wearing a stupendous hat for nearly every occasion.

But, I am completely wowed by the late Academy Award-winning Henry Mancini‘s scores for the series — the opening “Remington Steele Theme” and the closing credits “Laura Holt Theme”.  In addition to winning back-to-back Oscars for “Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and “Days of Wine and Roses” (Days of Wine and Roses), Mancini also won 20 Grammys.  His very lush, seductive theme at the start of the series sets the perfect mood.  And, the incidental music by Richard Lewis Warren is filmic — lifting the series in a way most incidental music these days cannot touch.

Now rumors have swirled that the set was the most unpleasant place, but any acrimony was strictly off camera.  Remington Steele made such an impression on audiences and Hollywood execs that Pierce Brosnan was originally offered the role of James Bond in the mid-80s.  Due to the show’s surprise return for a fifth season of sorts, he could not take the role.  He, of course, got his shot about a decade later.

Remington Steele, in all its glory, may be viewed on Hulu.

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5 Responses to “Revisiting A Classic: Remington Steele”

  1. K. Johnson Says:

    The acrimony on the set is doubly unfortunate because the stars were–are–just about the best and kindest people you would ever want to meet.

  2. That was a very interesting read about Revisiting A Classic: Remington Steele AMZ Creative

  3. When the show originally aired, I was just a kid – but I loved the show. Watching it now as an adult, I love it even more.

  4. I recently rediscovered the show through Hulu as well, and found it so timeless, well-written, and well-acted that I have spent the last few months fully immersed in it, as a fan, and as a student of pop culture. I’m on a bit of crusade to have the show’s value recognized. As with many things in the world of pop culture, there seems to be a huge gap between what fans find valuable and what the critics / academic world finds valuable.

  5. @AStudentofTVWriting — Agreed. The show holds up. Keep up the crusade. Remington Steele was (and still is) a winner.

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