Until 1995 and GoldenEye, the only thing I’d seen Pierce Brosnan in was Mrs Doubtfire. I never really took to Pierce as James Bond, and I suspect it’s because I always thought of him as that smug bloke who went off with Robin Williams’s wife.
Maybe things would have been different if I’d started with Remington Steele. From 1982 until 1987 (an obligation which saw him lose out to Timothy Dalton on the Bond front), Brosnan portrayed the nameless chancer, traveller and crook who takes on the persona of a fictional private investigator cooked up by detective Laura Holt because potential clients don’t want to hire a woman, and finds himself tempted by her brains and beauty to go straight and settle down.
If that sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Pierce smarms and charms his way through a series of quirky mysteries, providing the brawn to Stephanie Zimbalist’s brain as well as drawing parallels between this week’s crime and one of the classic movies he somehow found time to watch in between learning to steal wallets and crack safes. There’s will-they-won’t-they tension between the two leads right from the start, which means a weekly chance to see two attractive people have a snog then immediately start arguing about it.
I first caught up with Remington Steele in 2019, thanks to The James Bond Social Media Project and, shortly afterwards, showings on the 5USA channel (dedicated to bringing you all the 1980s American shows they can get the rights to cheaply). In 2020, of course, everything went terribly wrong, and Remington Steele, with a takeaway pizza and usually a ridiculous cocktail or two, became the Friday night not-going-out ritual that brightened lockdown for me and my flatmate.
The first episode I happened to encounter was the 12th instalment of season 2, ‘Steele Eligible’. It’s been my favourite ever since.
Season 1’s B team, detective Murphy and receptionist Miss Fox, have been replaced by redoubtable former-IRS dragon lady Mildred Krebs (Doris Roberts), who comes with a dry sense of humour, an eye for a good-looking gentleman and a touching belief that Steele really is the one in charge, addressing him as ‘Chief’ or ‘Boss’. The show has hit its stride, with a winning formula of quips and one-upmanship, tenderness, movie references, and murders that would be gruesome if they weren’t also just a little bit silly.
In ‘Steele Eligible’, Remington has been selected by Upbeat Magazine as one of LA’s Five Most Eligible Bachelors, alongside a finance king, attorney, hockey hunk and plastic surgeon. Following the press- and bimbo-studded opening ceremony, the five will be subjected to a gruelling series of photoshoots, each accompanied by a cheerleader.
(The cheerleader assigned to Steele rejoices in the name Millicent Fairbush: “Of course you are,” says Pierce, in one of the many little moments that make the series feel like Bond on a budget.)
Things play out as you might expect, with Steele milking the situation for all it’s worth while Laura sulks - her expression when Steele announces that his ideal lady is 'one he can work with as well as play with' is a delight.
Trouble is, one of the bachelors has been bumped off at his riding-stables before the junket even begins, and another is electrocuted in the hot tub during the event itself. The three survivors are are obviously in danger, and things get serious when Steele is nearly killed in a hit-and-run that leaves him with a broken leg and a golden opportunity to go on about Rear Window.
There’s lots to love in this episode, with some fantastic Eighties touches: Pierce’s red, white and blue tennis getup; Laura as the liberated woman fuming at the idea that hooking a rich, handsome man should be her life goal; the bachelor with a kink for ‘nuclear love’. And it is, as always, astonishing how far things can apparently go in the City of Angels without the police getting involved.
Mildred doesn’t get much to do this time round, but has fun making sure on Laura's behalf that her boss and his cheerleader don’t become too cosy. Laura, meanwhile, does the legwork, solves the murders, throws a couple of excellent punches, and ends the episode on top in the ongoing power game, leaving her partner prostrate, plastered and protesting as she heads out to help the magazine assess a fresh batch of bachelors.
You can’t help feeling sorry for Steele as the end credits roll: a man with two broken legs who has done nothing wrong except be a bit smug. And if that were a crime, Pierce would be in jail for life.
Yes, I still think Pierce Brosnan brings monumental, ineffable smugness to every role he plays. But it’s perfect for Remington Steele, as is his shiny, bouffant hair and his ability to look like a male model in anything from evening dress to double denim. He’s wonderful as a trickster, seducer and reluctant man of action. And even as season 5 lurches to a halt, when the plots have become beyond ludicrous, the characters have been exaggerated to the max, and he could have been playing James Bond for God’s sake, he looks like he’s having a great time throughout. Cheers, mate - or, as Steele would say: Chin chin!