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Series / Remington Steele

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Before he was James Bond, he was Remington Steele.note 

"Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Remington Steele? He doesn't exist. I invented him. Follow. I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so...feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm...until the day he walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele's identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows. It's a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don't even know his real name!"
Laura Holt's Opening Narration for Season One

A 1982–87 NBC series about private investigator Laura Holt and the handsome, nameless conman with a fascination for film noir who strolled into her life and very publicly took over the identity of her fictional "employer". To the surprise of both Laura and her partners Murphy Michaels and Bernice Fox, the conman with five passports (all in the names of Humphrey Bogart roles) turns out to be not too bad at detective work, although the degree to which he relies on the plots of old movies as his inspiration infuriates just about everyone.

After the first season, Murphy and Bernice were replaced by a single character, Mildred Krebs, to allow more stories to focus on the growing chemistry and hesitant romance between Laura and "Steele". Eventually Steele became a considerable investigator in his own right, relying less on his knowledge of movies and more on the experience he'd gained with Laura.

Remington Steele made a lasting star of Pierce Brosnan and won him the role of James Bond. Not without some controversy, though; Brosnan was cast in The Living Daylights after Steele had been cancelled, but as soon as the announcement had been made, NBC uncanceled the show at the very last minute, using contractual obligation to force Brosnan to give up the role and return to TV. Timothy Dalton ended up playing Bond in that film, and Brosnan had to wait for almost ten years to play Bond in 1995's GoldenEye. The show also made a lesser star of Stephanie Zimbalist (daughter of Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) for the duration of its run.

Originally written as a dramedy, with Steele intended to be a comic-relief figurehead while the focus was on Laura, but Brosnan's charisma and the chemistry between him and Zimbalist took over the plots.

One of the show's more prominent quirks was the fact that it always used the word "Steele" as part of every episode title. At first these were clever and/or amusing puns often related to the plot — "Steele Crazy After All These Years", "You're Steele The One For Me" — but as time went on the writers ran out of good 'steel/steal/still' puns, and took to just inserting the word into titles, seemingly at random ("Small Town Steele"). In one episode they managed to use both characters' names ("Red Holt Steele").

The trope The Real Remington Steele, while not occurring in the show, takes its name from it.

This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: In the first season, Steele invariably referred to Laura Holt's secretary Bernice Foxe as "Miss Wolf". It seemed Steele genuinely couldn't remember her last name, even though she told him it a million times. He seemed to have no problem remembering her first name though.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Season 2's "Hounded Steele" focuses on Mildred and her life outside of the office.
  • All for Nothing: All of the madcap antics in "Steele in the Chips" end up for naught, as a goat eats the last cookie and the recipe died with the creator.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Butch Bemis in "Let's Steele a Plot".
  • Always Murder: Averted at least once, in a season 1 episode where the death turns out to have been a suicide carefully staged to look like a murder, turning the entire plot into an elaborate in-universe Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, albeit one with an actual corpse. It qualifies as a Fair-Play Whodunnit, to boot.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Bernard in "Steele in the Family".
  • Baseball Episode: "Second Base Steele".
  • Becoming the Mask: The Mole impersonates the fictitious Steele as a place to hide, but eventually settles into the role.
  • The Boxing Episode: "Steele Knuckles And Glass Jaws," in which a baby is found in a boxer's locker and he asks the Steele agency for help. Hijinx ensue as the boxer readies for a match and Remington is revealed to be a very competent boxer.
  • California Doubling: Inverted in "Puzzled Steele", which was filmed in Malta. A Maltese village that turns out to be an in-universe prop looks a lot like old American Southwest towns.
  • Call-Back: Shortly before the events of "Puzzled Steele", Steele, Holt and Krebs visited a bar in Mykonos, where Steele had been before as referenced to in "Elegy in Steele".
  • Chained Heat: Holt and Steele in "Steele Your Heart Away".
  • Character Development: As the series goes on, Steele learns from Laura and becomes a better detective. He even uses his film knowledge to better use, often using films that better fit the situation.
  • Character Name Alias: Steele, a movie buff, has multiple passports, each bearing the name of a character Humphrey Bogart played in the movies. In a later episode, Laura catches him in a lie because a woman calling him uses the alias of an Ingrid Bergman character.
  • Circus Episode: In "High Flying Steele", Laura and Remington go undercover as aerialist trainees at a circus to investigate an old "accident" that left another performer paralysed.
  • Combat Stilettos: Laura Holt. In the episode "Steele in the Chips," a guest star played by Geena Davis asks how Laura can run in high heels, to which she replies, "Practice." This happens after Laura has chased her several blocks, while Stephanie Zimbalist (who was very adept at running in heels) keeps up easily, all on camera.
  • The Con: The episode "Sting of Steele", inspired by the movie The Sting, plays a trick with betting on overseas sports results.
  • Cousin Oliver: rare adult version (in terms of audience reaction) with the addition of Tony Roselli in the abbreviated final season.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Major Descoine, so very much, but especially in "Elegy in Steele." His crowning achievement of a long list of being waaaaay ahead of Steele & Holt involves having stolen a diary from her childhood and using it to set them up for the final play: driving Steele mad enough to threaten his life in front of a police officer, whom Descoine had previously arranged to be at that spot at that time just to hear Steele threaten him.
  • Denser and Wackier: Season 3's "Steele in the Chips" is one of the very few episodes to be an outright farce, being a Whole-Plot Reference to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with a tin of cookies. This is not a bad thing, as it's often considered the series' funniest episode.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Done by Laura in "Red Holt Steele" when Steele suggests she Show Some Leg à la Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night to throw security guards off while our heroes are on a corporate sabotage/murder case. Needless to say, it works.
  • Dramedy: The series generally balances both comedic and dramatic moments equally, though some episodes tip the balance one way or another.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: For some reason, Steele fails to recognize the name George Kaplan in the second episode.
  • Engineered Public Confession: In the pilot, the heroes move a body from one room to another in a hotel. When the villain exclaims, "We left him in his room!" a door is opened to reveal a roomful of cops next door.
  • Episode on a Plane: "Coffee, Tea or Steele".
  • Epunymous Title: See Idiosyncratic Episode Naming below.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Used regularly, with Steele being reminded of a plot point from a movie at a critical point in the case. Sometimes used as a Red Herring when Steele's movie references end up providing a plausible but entirely incorrect solution.
    Steele: I think we're in the wrong movie.
  • Expy: Moonlighting (created by an ex-Remington Steele writer). Pierce Brosnan even makes a rare non-NBC crossover appearance as Steele in one episode. (Also, the MAD parody "Moon-fighting" is filed under "A Remington Steal Department.")
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Everyone thinks Remington Steele is one of the great detectives, when it's usually Laura doing the work. This gets downplayed as the series goes on, as Steele becomes a better detective.
  • Finger Gun: In one episode Laura holds an empty bottle to someones back to make them think she has a gun.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: In one episode, the poison was in the glue on some envelopes Steele and Laura were expected to lick.
  • Fugitive Arc: Major Descoine twice engineers this for the title character:
    • Once, Descoine frames Steele for a hit-and-run death. Steele and Laura have to try to solve the case while avoiding a plainclothes cop named Jarvis.
    • In a later episode, Descoine calls the police claiming that Steele and Laura threatened to kill him at a particular place at noon; he himself promises them they will be dead by noon that same day, then leads them on a merry chase. The trio arrive at the designated spot, where the cop tries to arrest Laura and Steele; Laura and Steele disarm the cop and steal his police cruiser to get away and resume their pursuit of Descoine.
  • Gangsterland: Seems to invoke this trope in having Steele obsessed with hard-boiled detective stories. He seemingly believed that they presented as accurate a picture of contemporary America and its slang as they did in the 1920s–1940s, when most of them were written.
  • Gentleman Thief: Steele was this kind of character before assuming his role as private investigator.
  • Genre Mashup: The series blended romantic comedy, drama, detective procedural and (towards the end of the series) international political intrigue and espionage.
  • Girl of the Week:
    • Both Remington and Laura have episode specific love interests, often being old flames or rivals to the others affection. None of these last till the end of an episode, with the exception of Felicia Remington's Old Flame.
    • Mildred also has multiple love interests throughout the series. These usually last longer than the other two, though the men inevitably never appear again after their sole episodes.
  • Heroic BSoD: Steele undergoes a bit of one when he mistakenly thinks he's run someone over with a car.
  • His Name Is...: In the series finale, Steele discovers that his longtime mentor, Daniel Chalmers, is also his father. Chalmers dies just as Steele is asking him, "What is my real name?" See The Unreveal.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: The apparent "boss" (Steele) is explicitly a figurehead for PR purposes and Laura is the one who is, in fact, in charge. This is played for humour when Mildred is introduced, as she initially didn't know that Steele was a figurehead and thus treats him like the real boss.
    Mildred: Wait, so Mr. Steele's the boss but Ms. Holt is the one in charge?
    Steele: Surely, Mildred, having worked for the federal government, that shouldn't be too hard a concept to understand.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode title has "Steele" somewhere in it, usually as a pun for "steal," "steel," or "still."
    • Nicely played with in "You're Steele the One for Me," where the expectation of a punny title (and the broken English in which the phrase is said in the episode) make the audience believe it's a pun for "you're still the one for me," but it's actually meant literally, as in, "you're Remington Steele, the person I'm trying to reach."
  • The Immodest Orgasm: A plot point of sorts in "Steele Trap."
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: The cookies in "Steele in the Chips", with the added kick that they are literally only one calorie.
  • Interpol Special Agent: One episode guest-starred Tom Baker (of Doctor Who fame) as a Former Interpol agent whose investigations intersected Remington Steele's Case of the Week.
  • Interrupted Suicide: In the episode "Steele in Circulation", Steele starts the episode pulling a guy down off a bridge... and then has to spend most of the rest of it averting his attempts to walk into traffic and fling himself off roofs, until an attempt on the man's life gets him indignant enough to stop.
  • Invented Individual:
    • One episode finds the detectives searching for a video game exec named George Kaplan. They find that Kaplan does not exist, and was part of the company's scheme to avoid a takeover.
    • Remington Steele himself, until the role is filled.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: Laura Holt combined a Remington typewriter and the Pittsburgh Steelers to name her "fictitious" boss Remington Steele.
  • Logo Joke: The MTM kitten sports a pipe and deerstalker cap a la Sherlock Holmes.
  • Love Triangle: In the first season, Steele and Laura's Belligerent Sexual Tension is accompaned by the agency's junior detective Murphy flirting with Laura and being happy whenever Steele looks bad.
  • Loveable Rogue: Steele.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Steele finds out in the last episode that Daniel Chalmers, his mentor and fellow con-man, is actually his long-lost father.
  • Married at Sea: The producers royally pissed off many Shippers when they had Remington attempting to enter into a Citizenship Marriage with a random hooker, then had him and Laura wed at the end of the episode by a sea captain in a surly ceremony that wasn't anything near the consummation that many fans of the show were hoping for. This trend carried on to the ending, with the result being that Pierce Brosnan publicly stated that the ending of the series in many ways was a disservice to the fans and the characters.
  • Masquerading As the Unseen: The premise of the show. Brosnan's character adopts the identity of the unseen head of the detective agency, knowing that only Laura will know he's not the real deal and she can't expose him without exposing herself.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Steele is searching a missing man's hotel room when the man's ex-girlfriend happens to come in. Since the boyfriend had mentioned he was dating someone new, she assumes he meant Steele, and laments, "Why is it always the good-looking ones?"
  • Moment Killer: According to Steele, the entire universe was involved in a vast conspiracy to prevent him from getting chummy with Laura Holt.
    Laura: Why are they shooting at us?
    Steele: Because we were kissing. Somebody always shoots at us when we're kissing!
  • The Movie Buff: Steele is one, and the cases frequently remind him of movie references. Often the wrong ones.
  • Mysterious Past: Steele.
  • Nasty Party: One early case started when a plastic surgeon shot himself to death while holding an invitation to an island resort's exclusive grand opening weekend. Laura and Steele pose as the physician and his nurse to attend the party, and soon the rest of the guests start dying off one by one.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Conrad Janis's character in "Stronger than Steele" is totally not Clayton Moore.
  • No Name Given: We never learn Remington Steele's true name; even though we know the name of his supposed father (as revealed late in the series) is Chalmers, there's no guarantee Dad is using a real name, either. Based on the circumstances of Steele's birth mother died in childbirth, father was in prison, he may not even have a real name.
    • It could be supposed that since Chalmers always called him "Harry", that is at least the name his father chose for him. Whether it's his on a birth certificate anywhere is unknown.
  • No One Sees the Boss: Finding people reluctant to hire a detective agency run by a woman, Laura instead poses as an employee of a never-seen fictitious male boss. This straight use of the trope gets turned on its ear once an actual person co-opts the role.
  • Opening Narration: In Season 1, Laura explained how her fake detective came to be played by a real person.
  • Opening Shout-Out: The first episode repeats the entire Opening Narration describing the premise of the show. There's something of a reprise in the Fourth Season premiere.
  • Or My Name Isn't...: In "Steele Belted":
    Remington Steele: I guarantee your exoneration on all charges, Buddy, or my name isn't Remington Steele.
    Laura Holt: Your name isn't Remington Steele.
    Remington: A mere technicality.
  • Parents for a Day: Laura and Steele take care of her nieces and nephew in "Suburban Steele".
    Laura Holt: Hold on, kids. We're going to the movies!
  • Post-Script Season: The Season 4 finale married off Laura and Steele, as the show's cancellation looked certain and Pierce Brosnan had been offered the role of James Bond. However, because Brosnan got the Bond role, NBC decided to renew the show, bringing it back for a very lame half-season which lacked all of the charm of the preceding seasons and effectively scuttling Brosnan's big movie break. Brosnan didn't end up playing Bond for over a decade.
  • Prelude to Suicide: One of the biggest clues that the case in "In the Steele of the Night" is Suicide, Not Murder is that the victim has lots of dog food but no dog. Laura realizes he must have recently given away the dog he would no longer be able to care for.
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: In "Elegy in Steele", Laura and Steel are in pursuit of Major Descoine (after he threatened to kill them in the next hour) when they come across a selection of tombstones. Two of them have their names and that day's date carved on them (the date was that of the original broadcast of the episode).
  • Pursued Protagonist:
    • "Steele Crazy After All These Years" begins with intercuts between a man running across a campus and looking over his shoulder and a woman lounging around her house. The man reaches the house and pounds on the door, begging to be let in, but when the woman responds to the cries, he is gone and his body is found a few scenes later.
    • "Altared Steele" begins with an amnesiac man with a head wound trying to calm down a woman who finds him in her house, then running outside, driving off, and being followed first on foot, and then in a car, by a woman who tries to shoot him.
    • In "Elementary Steele", two costumed men break into a woman's apartment, causing her to flee into the street wearing a Modesty Towel and ride off on a motorcycle as they follow. However, it turns out that her pursuers were being manipulated into thinking it was part of a novelty company's mystery scenario and aren't malicious.
  • Put on a Bus: Murphy Michaels and Bernice Fox depart the agency after season 1.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Steele was originally meant to be played by an American and some early episodes seem to reflect this, in one he makes an analogy about Babe Ruth and George Washington which seems out of place. The pilot itself was the second episode to be shot and presumably the last episode of the first bunch to be written, the pilot reflects that Steele is a foreigner. From the episode "Steele Trap," Steele is specifically stated to be Irish, like Brosnan.
  • Relative Error: Steele once saw Laura talking with her brother-in-law and thought she was having an affair. It didn't really help that the brother-in-law kept kissing her on the cheek...
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: The first season featured the tune "Laura's Theme" as Stephanie Zimbalist explained the series premise. The second season introduced a theme based on a small bit of incidental music that played as Remington would say something like "God I'm good!" after Laura explained how the case was solved. They had a more upbeat variant for the third season opening and an even more upbeat version for the fourth, but the latter didn't take. "Laura's Theme" played during the final credits through all the seasons.
  • Retired Monster: A downplayed example with Kevin Masters AKA Le Renard. By his own admission, he has no regrets being a former master thief and occasionally likes to imagine up new heists in the present. However, he's also a Nice Guy who prefers a quite life who genuinely has a thing for Mildred. In some ways, he's kind of an older version of Steele.
  • Running Gag:
    • There are several moments showing that no one's quite sure what the relationship between Steele and Holt is. Mildred even bluntly tells them in "Hounded Steele" that she can't begin to comprehend what's going on between the two of them.
    • Steele, being The Movie Buff that he is, often brings up movies related to the case hat hand. Often it's the wrong one.
  • Sequel Hook: "Elegy in Steele" (Major Descoine is caught, but his daughter "Minor" escapes at the end).
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: Remington Steele.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Steele. The producers felt nothing less than fine suits would be good enough for Pierce Brosnan and referred to him as a clothes horse. Evidently the Bond producers felt the same way.
  • Significant Reference Date: The date on the headstones in "Elegy in Steele", was the original broadcast date.
  • Spotting the Thread:
    • Kevin Masters giving his dog a collar with diamonds automatically outs him as Le Renard, when Laura finds the news article about the Kronesbourgh Necklace, which she recognizes as the dog's collar.
    • Laura slowly realizes that a supposed millionaire actually doesn't exist and created as a false identity for a scam. As she relates, it was a good act to fool almost anyone...except someone who just happened to know exactly what it took to create and maintain a nonexistent boss.
  • Strictly Professional Relationship: The cool-to-warm variant occurs with Remington Steele, private investigator. When Laura Holt put her detective skills on the market, she got no takers. Laura then created the fictional Remington Steele as her "boss". Soon a handsome fellow came by, and announced that he was, in fact, Remington Steele. Laura bristled at idea at first. However, Steele soon proved intuitive and useful as a partner. A slow thaw pervaded subsequent episodes.
  • Suspect Existence Failure: Used in an And Then There Were None reference plot.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: Laura escapes police observation by hiding near a wall with a large graffiti heart and the initials MK and LH. As she emerges, she comments, "You may not have been much of a kisser, Marty Klopman, but you sure knew where to do it."
  • Take That!: There was an episode with an elderly British spy who said "We in MI5 thought James Bond was a sissy." Pierce Brosnan was in the running to play James Bond when Roger Moore left the role, but had to back out due to commitments to Remington Steele. It all worked out in the end...
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Steele again.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Had at least one of these, with Steele of course referencing And Then There Were None and its signature plot twist: the sixth person to 'die' faked his death and was actually the murderer.
  • Themed Aliases: Remington does this in the pilot; all of his fake passports bear the name of a Humphrey Bogart character.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: An episode during one of the early seasons has Steele believing he has run a man over with his car and killed him reveals that up to that point, despite his legally shady behavior and mysterious past, he'd never actually killed anyone before.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Used this trope in "Small Town Steele," which cited the 1955 movie Bad Day at Black Rock.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: The eponymous character is actually a made up persona taken over by a con man. He had no problems the first season, but the second season starts out with a visit from the IRS, curious about the lack of about twenty odd years of income tax filings.
  • Unique Pilot Title Sequence: The first episode has Laura tell a slightly different story to since at this point she hasn't met the man who would take over Remington Steele's persona.
  • The Un-Reveal: Steele asks his father what his real name is... only to find that his father has just died.
    • Given the circumstances surrounding Steele's birth as told to him by his father, his mother died in labour and he was in jail at the time, it's quite possible that Steele doesn't actually have a name, or that his name is Harry because that's what his dad called him.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: In the episode "Elegy in Steele", Major Descoine comes to the agency's office, promises Laura and Steele he'll kill them both by noon that day, and leads them on a chase around the city. One surreal stop is a richly-furnished Victorian-looking apartment in an otherwise abandoned building. On looking around, the detectives notice that the framed photographs scattered about the living room show them at work on recent cases (in clearly recognizable stills from previous episodes), and the penny drops:
    Steele: He's been FOLLOWING us! The bloody bugger's been SPYING on us!
    Laura: It gives me the creeps.
    The Minor: [Enters carrying a loaded tea tray] Oh, "cream," did you say?
    [Stops as Steele and Laura turn on her, Steele pointing his gun at her] It's right here on the tray.
  • Will Talk for a Price: In hot pursuit of Major Descoine in "Elegy in Steele", Laura and Remington meet a deaf carver of tombstones (including one for each of them, listing that day's date—the Real Life original air date of the episode). He only plugs in his hearing aids and tells them which way Descoine went when presented with a $50 bill.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Laura and Steele's relationship is this, even when they get married.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Given the gimmick of Steele's identifying cases with old movies, this happens rather a lot.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Steele, amazingly, at least once. Although he did say "Forgive me" before doing so.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Steele is a classic movie buff, and every case he and Laura Holt solve together reminds him of a classic movie. Often the wrong one....
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Mildred admits in "Hounded Steele" that she feels unimportant as merely the secretary, which is why she exaggerates what she does to her bowling group. Both Remington and Laura immediately assure her that they think she's a very important part of the agency.