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. Its 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!
Remember Remington Steele (1982-1987)? It may not seem like such a big deal now, but it was the first show I’d ever seen in which a woman was a private detective with her own business—and unlike in Hart to Hart (1979-1984), a series which overlapped with Remington Steele, the PI heroine, Laura Holt, wasn’t married to her wealthy business partner. It was different in other ways, too. Like the “dramedy” M.A.S.H. (1972-1983), the show blended genres: detective show, romantic comedy, and sometimes straight-out drama. Today it’s a real experience to re-watch the series and recognize so many of the guest stars: Dorothy Lamour, Sharon Stone, Delta Burke, Geena Davis. Not to mention everyone’s 1980s wardrobe and hair…but the stories, and the central romantic relationship, still hold up.
Early in the 1980s, it was unusual to find a character like Laura Holt on network television. Laura was her own woman, responsible for her own destiny. True, the show also focused heavily on the romance between Laura and con man “Remington Steele,” but even when Steele took the lead in their relationship, Laura always kept her hardheaded approach to investigating. It’s often described as a forerunner of Moonlighting, but despite the brilliance of that show’s dialogue, I confess I still prefer Remington Steele. To me, it’s less stylized and more groundbreaking than its successor, especially in the matter of the romance. It’s still the role for which I remember Stephanie Zimbalist best.
Most people probably remember the show as Pierce Brosnan’s breakout role in the U.S., and the role that lost him the role of James Bond—first time around—to Timothy Dalton. Brosnan’s comedic timing (and later that of Doris Roberts, who played Mildred Krebs) was a major part of the show’s charm. The humor of the show harkened back deliberately to the Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s, both in Steele’s frequent references to movies and in the style of Steele and Laura’s relationship.
Remington Steele: I realize trust is not something bestowed, but earned, and on the face of it, I’ve done nothing to earn yours.
Laura Holt: Notice how I’m not jumping in to argue with you?
Laura and Steele had their Hollywood-style banter going from the first aired episode. It’s especially fun because their conversations always have an edge: Steele is lying about his identity, and Laura knows it. (In fact, his true name was never revealed.) He’s a (possibly former) criminal, and she’s a detective on the side of law and (decidedly) order. She’s the hardworking creator of her agency, he’s the figurehead who stepped in without her assent. He’s a skilled player of different roles; she has to try and discover which of those roles is his true self (she is a detective, after all!). Meanwhile, Steele has to struggle against a lifetime of concealment in order to attain what he wants: a relationship with Laura.
Laura Holt: What should I call you when we’re alone?
Remington Steele: Well, I’m quite used to the name that you came up with.
Laura Holt: It’s from a typewriter and a football team.
Remington Steele: Then pick one. I’ve probably used it.
All of these tensions deepen the meaning of even their most genial banter. In any romance, learning to trust the other person is a key element. In their romance, it isn’t just romantic trust at stake. For Laura, the question of trust is one that defines her deepest beliefs and her hardwon career; for Steele, it’s tied to his desire for redemption.
They’re not just solving cases; they’re solving each other.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.