Thoughts on “Remington Steele”

“Remington Steele” was a show that I watched when I was younger that as far as I can recall the entire family at least somewhat enjoyed. Admittedly, when you only have four channels, there isn’t much choice and so you will watch inferior shows and like them, but I don’t recall anyone complaining about it. It also starred a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan, Stephanie Zimbalist, and Doris Roberts, all of whom are good actors. So, when I came across the series for a decent price, it was worth getting because it was pretty likely to end up being a show that I’d enjoy.

Well, if you’ve been following my general comments on the blog, and especially on “Charmed”, you’ll already know how that turned out. “Remington Steele” is a show that I didn’t enjoy watching.

The show’s basic premise was that a female private detective isn’t getting any clients using her own name, so she invents a masculine name for the agency and so invents a never-seen superior that allows her to draw clients while still being able to do it all herself. Then, when she gets her first big case, a man appears who adopts — by accident or, rather, convenience — the Remington Steele name as he attempts to steal the very jewels she’s assigned to protect. They eventually do save the jewels, but in a way that generates such publicity that everyone comes to see him as actually being Remington Steele. However, the publicity also gives the agency a boost, so the two of them decide to keep up the charade while Laura (Zimbalist) tries to keep him out of the actual investigations. There’s also a will-they-won’t-they undercurrent of attraction between the two of them.

Now, one of the main stories about the show is that the creators came up with the name first and then built a show around the name. However, this is one of the main issues with the show, as it spends at least the first season trying to figure out what it’s really supposed to be about. A lot of the cases are rather light and ridiculous, but the show also likes to take the time to stop and insert serious discussions into the show, which always comes across as stopping the action to talk about some kind of character or dramatic point. They also then have to stop the show to try to further the will-they-won’t-they relationship between the two, which does the same thing. Neither of these flow nicely from the story or plot of the episode itself, which makes them stand out and seem awkward most of the time.

On top of that, the will-they-won’t-they isn’t properly set-up in the first season. There really isn’t any reason given for why Laura and Remington can’t get together, if for nothing more than a quick roll in the hay. For casual sex, there’s nothing in her not knowing his past that would stop her from having sex with him that wouldn’t also stop her from sharing the agency with him. So she has to at least trust him enough to play along with the charade and so can’t be completely distrustful of him. They try to introduce a competitor for her affections in Murphy, but this falls completely flat because it’s clear that Laura has no interest in him in that way. At all. And the show itself even lampshades that by having him confess his feelings to her and having her completely confirm that she didn’t seem him in that way at all. So, given this, I spent a large part of the first season essentially thinking “Just **** already!”. They clearly wanted to and had no reason not to at least just get in a one-night-stand with each other. There was an underlying running gag about them getting interrupted when they started getting together, but this wasn’t used consistently enough to justify their not being together. So perhaps the only unique thing about the show was completely lost in the first season, and as the seasons went along it was too late to make them distrust each other again.

The show also, unfortunately shares something with Star Trek: Enterprise: the fourth season is essentially a reboot to try to actually make the show into the sort of show it was originally supposed to be. Unfortunately, just like Enterprise when it did so it was too late to save the show (it only got its abbreviated fifth season because of the PR from Brosnan being considered to play James Bond). And unlike Enterprise, it actually ended up derailing the characters to do so, and not to repair them. After spending years getting to know and trust each other, Laura and Steele were thrust back into the original roles. Laura was distrustful and jealous, while Steele was uninterested in the agency again. This undid all of the progress they had made in their relationship. Then, Steele needed to get married to stay in the country, and Laura was unhappily roped, eventually, into fulfilling that role. But she was so opposed to the very notion of marrying him that it seemed ridiculous, as she had already been musing about having a family and they had grown closer. This was also a bad move because the plot required Laura to be angry, and when they wrote Laura to be angry she was really, really, really annoying.

While the season was plagued by bad writing and stupid plots, as a “getting its feet wet” season this would have worked, as the relationship was in a state where this made sense. Even the marriage of convenience plot would have worked well as the intro to season 2, although it would have changed the show completely. But in the fourth season it really seemed like the show was taking a huge step backwards, and so even if you were enjoying the show you’d have to feel that things were reset to a point that was already passed.

So how would I have done the show differently, or even for a modern audience? Well, first, I’d ditch the whole notion that Laura couldn’t get hired because she was a man. It was a bit odd at the time, and makes no sense now. Instead, use the reason the show existed in the first place: Laura could get some clients, but couldn’t get the great cases she wanted because her name didn’t stand out … but “Remington Steele” certainly did. And since the name also sounds higher class, it could draw in clients that are more well-to-do and so have bigger problems than, say, simply finding out if their spouse is cheating on them. Building a reputation among that crowd could, then, get her that big break in the first place, which could lead to them meeting and things proceeding as normal until they end up sharing the agency again.

I’d start with them angling for that one-night-stand with each other. At the time, you could have argued that Laura being that willing to engage in that sort of thing wouldn’t have worked, but when they started trying to loosen her up a bit they gave a story in her past where she did a sexy dance for an entire part of a company, which she repeated, so if she could do that then she could be willingly trying to get into an assignation with Steele. I’d have them trying to do that for about 10 episodes or so, and getting interrupted every time in line with the above running gag. And then, when they finally get together … they can’t do it. You pull the old line where they start, one pulls away and the other convinces them to go on, then the other pulls away, and then finally both pull away and obviously aren’t interested in convincing the other, because they’re both starting to have feelings for each other. For Steele, the reason is that he thinks that this scam is going to get blown at some point, and so he’s only here to enjoy it while it lasts and so doesn’t want any sort of deep relationship. He also figures that she won’t want to go with him to new scams since she’s so straight-laced, and so he’d have to leave her anyway. For Laura, she thinks that she can use this to make the agency a real success and wants to focus on that. She also figures that he’s going to get bored with it at some point and “retire”, and so a relationship with him isn’t going to last. This gives them good reasons to not want to pursue it but also establishes that they are naturally drawn to each other, which is the essence of the will-they-won’t-they plotline.

I’d also build the show around what was the main conceits of the characters in the original. Laura should provide the detective skills, while Steele should provide criminal knowledge and his movie references. Each episode should be a direct reference to a classic crime movie, at least in the first few episodes. You can handwave that by pointing out that crime stories are generated from the fertile minds of writers and so people will also come up with them as schemes, either or their own or by subconsciously remembering them. As Steele gets better at investigation, you can make some episodes reference crime TV show episodes — they did that on a couple of occasions — and have Laura, established as enjoying them, take the reference role while Steele takes over the deduction role. As the show goes on, Steele becomes more attached to the agency while Laura becomes more interested in the perks that it can provide, having them move together to align better and so be able to trust each other more. Eventually, they get together and then … well, you have to decide then how you want things to go.

Brosnan, Zimbalist and Roberts do a good job with the characters, but the writing is in general poor and so they often have nothing to work with. The show should be better than it is, but it ends up being uninteresting and generally annoying. I can’t imagine watching this series again.

For November through December I’ll be rewatching Charmed and Babylon 5, so no unwatched series until after New Year’s.

5 Responses to “Thoughts on “Remington Steele””

  1. First Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” (End Season 1) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] I enjoyed. Then again, shows that I thought that I would have liked before watching them again like “Remington Steele” and “Beauty and the Beast” worked out very badly for me, and did so quite quickly. So I […]

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    […] it because I wanted to get it finished before hockey restarted (and I achieved my goal) but unlike some other shows I wasn’t just rushing to get through it because I wanted to be done with […]

  3. Thoughts on “Hunter” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] than I’d like the rewatch.  So I was worried that it would turn out like its contemporary, “Remington Steele”, which is one reason why I was so hesitant to take the time to sit down and watch it.  And I can […]

  4. Final Thoughts on “House M.D.” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] as anything from really good to something with maybe a decent episode or two that I ended up hating (like “Remington Steele”).  Adding to this is the fact that for quite a long time I hadn’t been watching a lot of […]

  5. Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 1) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] And again I had watched shows from my youth that I liked, that I was ambivalent towards, and that I ended up disliking.  So it wasn’t obvious how this one would […]

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