Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Remington Steele

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, June 17, 2010

“A female private investigator seemed so… feminine.”

Special features

Commentary Track8
Making Of6

I watched this show pretty much only in reruns back in the eighties. It started the year I went off to college, so I only watched it during Christmas break (we had a long one) and summer break. While I loved the show at the time, I wasn’t sure what to expect watching it again twenty years later. Watched in order for the first time, the show holds up very well.

Movie Rating8
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating7
  • Television Format
A masculine superior

“A decidedly masculine superior.”

I watched this show pretty much only in reruns back in the eighties. It started the year I started college; we didn’t have a TV set, so I only watched it during Cornell’s long Christmas break and during summer break. That means I missed the character development they built into the first season; I also missed several episodes during each season, and I watched them in a haphazard order.

While I loved the show at the time, I wasn’t sure what to expect watching it again twenty years later. Watched in order for the first time, though, the show holds up very well—probably better than I remember it.

The first season of Remington Steele is surprisingly self-contained; the first show started with Brosnan’s character taking on Steele’s identity, and the final show ended on a relatively final note, almost a full family gathering from both sides of the warring couple.

And you know how the shows were often inspired by or completely based on a movie or tv series? Well, the final show was inspired by 24 and The Spanish Prisoner, which is surprising given that it was made over a decade before either one. They’ve got a specific deadline to solve the case, and the date/time are displayed onscreen regularly. And having watched the Spanish Prisoner, I know the scam almost as soon as it’s possible to know it.

Besides Laura Holt and Remington Steele, the first season contained two characters who would become one character in subsequent seasons: Murphy Michaels (James Read) and Bernice Foxe (Janet DeMay). Murphy was a colleague of Laura’s at a previous agency. He was secretly in love with her. Very secretly. While we all knew, she had no idea.

Murphy should have known from the start that he was doomed. Here’s the story from his perspective: Laura Holt leaves to start her own detective agency. As a female private eye she gets no business, or at least not the interesting, exciting kind. So she invents Remington Steele, a fictional boss, suave, charming, intelligent, handsome… everything she wants in a man. Later, Murphy follows her to join the “Remington Steele” agency. In all their troubles convincing clients that Mr. Steele was unavailable, it never occurred to her that Murphy Michaels could play the role of her handsome, smart, idealized man.

An unlikely date

“A date? Us?”

Towards the end of the series, we get to see what Laura is like without the shadow of Remington Steele on her. In “Vintage Steele”, her ex-boyfriend shows up (he was mentioned in passing in one of the first episodes). He’s in trouble. He stole a body from a winery because he doesn’t want to spook his bank before it invests in the winery.

Laura’s old boyfriend: “I saw that body in the vat, and suddenly I thought to myself, what would Laura do about this?”

Laura (sarcastically): “So you stuffed him in the trunk of a car and ran away with it.”

She also apparently had a good time in Acapulco. There is always humor in the shows, but Vintage Steele moves a bit more towards slapstick.

This is a decent enough DVD set, too. it contains 22 episodes on four double-sided DVDs. There are also a couple of nice extras on the set, but there is no list of where the extras are. With eight sides, that makes it difficult to find them.

Disc 1, Side 1Commentary with Michael Gleason and Robert Butler (License to Steele; Tempered Steele)
Disc 1, Side 2Remington Steele, Season One (12 minutes)
Disc 2, Side 2Remington & Laura—Bernice & Murphy (15 minutes)
Disc 3, Side 2Comedy & Old Movies (8 minutes)
Disc 4, Side 1Commentary with Michael Gleason and Susan Baskin (Vintage Steele)
Not Remington Steele

Ceci n’est pas Steele.

The listing of episodes, besides not saying which side an episode is on, is also slightly off: Steele in the News is the last episode on disc 3, not the first episode on disc 4.

The three “Making of…” featurettes are short and interesting. They talk about how the show evolved before it started filming—originally, for example, there was no Remington Steele; and how the show evolved after filming. For example, there wasn’t enough screen time for both the Murphy Michaels character and the Bernice Foxe character. So, in the second series, they combined the two into Mildred Krebs. It made a lot of sense.

The commentaries are slow and sporadic but wide-ranging. They thought of the series as a “throwback to thirties screwball comedies”.1 From some student’s dissertation on Laura Holt to how richly they peopled the hallways to a lot of talk about hats—do they want them everywhere or not? They literally redid some scenes after deciding to cut back on the hats, so that characters in the first show wear disappearing/re-appearing hats.

The first episode was deliberately filled with everyone lying to everyone; Laura Holt’s lies built to Brosnan’s character taking on—at first accidentally—a role in those lies. This was important: they need to find a way to let someone take Remington Steele from her without making her look like an idiot.

The initial episode deliberately mirrored Delorean’s car company—it mirrored it a little too much. I would not have believed that it aired before Delorean’s troubles with the law.

Some of the stories over the first two commentaries are slightly repetitive, but if you’re a fan of the series they’re a lot of fun to listen to; Butler and Gleason certainly seem to have enjoyed rewatching their old work.

Steele family portrait

The Steele family gathering.

“We earned our money, my friend. That was good.”

If you like extras, you should also browse through Stephanie Zimbalist’s web site for some old interviews. Look at the two from the Letterman show; she seems like a genuinely nice person. If I’d seen that back in the eighties I would definitely have sent her a photo of me and my dad’s truck! I do disagree with her about fans not wanting to see the characters develop, however. That was very enjoyable watching it now, and I’d imagine it was enjoyable for people who watched it in order back then, too.

As I read around on the net, I see complaints that the covers of the various seasons all emphasize Pierce Brosnan. I’m sure some of it is that he’s more famous nowadays, but I think more of it is just that the people designing these covers weren’t watching television 28 years ago. The tagline for season one is “Before he was Bond he was… Remington Steele.” But of course, he wasn’t—he was someone pretending to be Remington Steele. But the name of the show is “Remington Steele”. If you’re a 25-year-old who never saw the show, why wouldn’t you put Remington Steele on the cover? God only knows what they would have done if they’d kept to the original premise: a Remington Steele where Steele remained solely in Laura Holt’s imagination.2

Remington Steele’s first season was an intelligent series and a lot of fun to watch. I’m not sure it could be made again today, but it can certainly be watched again today.

“God, I’m good.”

  1. In the second episode especially, Brosnan strongly resembled Jimmy Stewart.

  2. My cover would have been “Ceci n’est pas Remington Steele.”

Recommendation: Wonderful

ActorsStephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan, James Read, Janet DeMay
Length17 hours, 58 minutes
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish (CC), Spanish
Special FeaturesCommentary Track, Making Of
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