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Remington Steele: Season One

Long before he was James Bond, impossibly handsome movie star Pierce Brosnan played a lower-rent version on the small screen — Remington Steele. The series, which debuted on NBC on October 1, 1982, starred Stephanie Zimbalist as private detective Laura Holt, a feisty modern feminist type who's found that all the horrible misogynists in the world won't take her seriously as a dick because she's a dame. So, as she explains in the too-lengthy monologue at each show's start, "I invented a superior. A decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block." The premise for the series is laid out when, during a high-profile security job in the show's pilot episode, "License to Steele," she runs into a con man/thief attempting to lift the jewels that the Remington Steele Agency has been hired to protect. Through delightfully silly, screwball-comedy-meets-caper-flick plot convolutions, the mysterious thief takes over the job of portraying Remington Steele by pilot's end. Throughout the run of the series, which lasted until mid-1987, there was the expected sexual friction between Holt and Steele as they solved crimes while acting opposite a number of intriguing — and often as-yet-unknown — guest stars like Geena Davis, Sharon Stone, Paul Reiser, Jennifer Tilly, John Larroquette, Jack Scalia and Zimbalist's dad, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. While the weekly episodes followed a fairly boilerplate, 1980s cop series template, the fun came from the witty writing — creator Glenn Gordon Caron's Thin Man-esque banter was a staple of every episode, and he would refine it even further three years later with "Moonlighting." And, as with many of the best episodic series, there was an ongoing story-beneath-the-stories that pulled viewers in each week — as Laura fell ever more deeply in lust for the mysterious man pretending to be Steele, she also tried to find out who he really was. Knowing only that he was an accomplished con artist and had an encyclopedic memory for old-movie trivia, over the course of the series she slowly dug up bits and pieces of his past — and old girlfriends would show up asking for help, the IRS started to wonder why Steele had never paid taxes, and there were troubles with immigration.

In the annals of TV and movie trivia, "Remington Steele" is famously responsible for postponing Brosnan stepping into the 007 tuxedo — as the show was getting low ratings, NBC announced it would be canceled at the end of its fourth season, and Brosnan accepted the offer to play Bond in The Living Daylights. But the announcement sent viewers scurrying to their TVs and ratings for "Steele" skyrocketed — so NBC rescinded the cancellation and held Brosnan to his contract, forcing him to back out of the deal. Ratings predictably plummeted once again, the series was re-canceled after six more episodes, and Brosnan and Zimbalist left the production amid rumors of acrimony. Rewatching early episodes again after so many years is an interesting experience — as noted above, the writing is often superb, and Brosnan positively looms off the small screen with a presence that can't be confined in such a small space, as well as a talent that the role barely tapped. On the weaker end of the scale, Zimbalist — never a strong actress — often has trouble holding her own and has an annoying habit in the early episodes of unconsciously mimicking Brosnan's accent. The hairstyles and wardrobe choices are often painful to look at as well, being the early 1980s (expect huge hair and outsized shoulder pads on the women — yikes!) But those who fondly remember Remington Steele, or get a kick out kitschy '80s nostalgia, will enjoy this set.

Fox's four-disc DVD collection offers all 22 episodes of the first season in TV-friendly full-screen (1.33:1), nicely cleaned up with clear, if unimpressive, Dolby monaural audio (English, with English or Spanish subtitles). Extras include some rather dull commentaries by creators Michael Gleason and Robert Butler (on the pilot "License to Steele" and "Tempered Steele") and Gleason and writer Susan Baskin (on "Vintage Steele"), plus three short — and more interesting — "making-of" featurettes. Two slimline cases in a paperboard slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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