Remington Steele: Season 1 Review
"Try this for a deep, dark secret. The great detective Remington Steele? He doesn't exist. I invented him".
Or, so says Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) at the start of each episode of this 80s detective drama that more often plays out like a sitcom. Laura is a trained private investigator who tried to set up her own detective agency but found it hard to get work as a female PI. So she invents 'Remington Steele', her idealised man and boss who can solve any crime. Immediately her detective agency starts to get more work and the myth of Steele proves to be a bit of a goldmine for Laura, her colleague Murphy (another PI, played by James Read) and their secretary Bernice Foxe (Janet DeMay). The world of the Remington Steele Detective Agency takes a massive tumble into the unknown though when a suave and mysterious character, played by Pierce Brosnan, assumes the identity of Remington Steele in a high-profile setting, so that Laura and Co. have to play along in order to perpetuate the myth of their boss.
The first series of Remington Steele consists of 22 episodes which were broadcast between 1982 and 1983 and have some terrible, punning titles, such as 'Thou Shalt not Steele', 'Steele in the News' and 'Signed, Steeled and Delivered'. Luckily, I don't remember in the 80s ever having any concept of episode titles, so I missed this when watching the broadcast show. Remington Steele evokes the films of the 30s and 40s and ably mixes comedy, romance and detective work in a style that was to be emulated by Moonlighting a few years later. Steele's love of classic films and his mysterious background (where rogueish tendencies are hinted at) actually allow him to get involved with the detective work and help Laura both to solve cases and as a figurehead. There's some tension provided by Murphy's jealousy of Laura's growing attraction to Steele, but generally it's a 2-person show, the main hook is the growing relationship between Laura and Steele.
There's some repetition in these episodes, however, and I found them more enjoyable when taken only a few at a time. The character development is strong through the series and both Zimbalist and Brosnan flesh out their characters well (though Brosnan's dodgy South African accent in the first episode is probably best forgotten). The guest stars and the remainder of the cast do a perfectly adequate job, but none of them can take the spotlight from the leads. It's no surprise that Brosnan's suave turn here is what drew the Bond producers to him, though originally he couldn't take the part because of contractual obligations on Remington Steele.
The primary attraction of Remington Steele is the way it mixes romance, detective/crime tales and a sitcom feel, and though the series is obviously dated, it remains highly watchable. There's nothing too deep and meaningful; it's silly and fun instead and for me remains a nostalgic part of my television-viewing life, and one I was happy to revisit on DVD.
Considering the age of the show, the transfer is pretty good. It's 4:3 and shows off some good deep blacks and natural tones. The show does have a soft look to it, which heightens the old-school feel. Despite this softness, the detail remains solid and strong. Obviously there's some grain, but that's more to do with the age of the print rather than any lack of care in the preparation of the DVD. The picture quality does its job and holds no real surprises, either positive or negative.
The audio track is a 2-channel mono one, again not unexpected due to the age of the series. In terms of the dialogue and even the soundtrack, It's a bit narrow in range, but the dialogue is at least clear throughout. There doesn't appear to have been any audio deterioration in the masters and really this is a perfectly adequate mix for the show. Anything more flashy would feel artificial considering the age and the nature of Remington Steele.
The biggest extras here are audio commentaries. Creators Michael Gleason and Robert Butler comment on 'License to Steele', the pilot episode, and the first episode, 'Tempered Steele'. Gleason can also be heard on 'Vintage Steele', where he's joined by writer Susan Baskin. The commentaries are mostly anecdotal, though there's some information about the development of the show as you might expect from the contributors. They're enjoyable, but I found myself wanting to hear more from the actors.
There are also featurettes about the making of the series, which include interviews with the crew and cast... yes, including Pierce Brosnan. One 'making of' featurette can be found on each even-numbered DVD. Again, anecdotes litter the featurettes, but they're amusing and entertaining and it's just good to see any extras at all for a release of this vintage.
Finally, there are some short character profiles on the second disc. They serve to round off the extras and are pretty much as expected.
Remington Steele is a fun romp of a detective series with a heavy strain of romantic comedy attached. The cast works well together and the show will always be best known, perhaps, for launching Pierce Brosnan into the public consciousness as a potential Bond. It's great to see this TV show making it onto DVD and with enough interest to include decent transfers and some extras to flesh out the offering.