Season 1, Episode 1: “License to Steele”
Original airdate: Oct. 1, 1982
Noel: That was a really long hiatus. I spent most it being annoyed that my LEGO Wonder Woman keychain’s paint rubs off way too quickly. I mean, her tiara is practically gone. What a ripoff.
But, hey, we’re back, and with another series with a woman at the center of things: Remington Steele. Yes, yes, it does involve a dashing thief and con man posing as the eponymous character, but Laura Holt created an entire business around him before this thief assumed the mantle, and that’s nothing to scoff at.
So before we begin discussing this first episode, as we often do, let’s hear about our history, if any, with the show. Shockingly, I’ve only seen a few episodes here and there, and while my second roommate in college was obsessed with the show, he never made me sit down and watch the thing, so I pretty blame him for me not watching this sooner. I made him watch Sports Night, after all. The least he could’ve done was return the favor.
What about you, Kerensa?
Kerensa: Well, Noel, you know I was sold on this because of my general feelings about dashing thieves and con men!
I had heard about Remington Steele, mainly because of Pierce, but had never seen it. But it wasn’t until coming to This Was Television, where I actually watched an episode for one of our roundtables and really enjoyed it. Much more than I expected to.
What did you think about the pilot episode?
Noel: I enjoyed it as well. It’s not that old of a show — it only has two years on me — but it also feels like a show that could be produced today, even though it would need spies instead of detectives. But I think that says a good deal about the pilot that it feels of A time without feeling of THE time (the creators’ comments on the DVD commentary track for this episode aside).
Before we dive in a bit deeper into the episode, tell me about how you feel about the pilot in relation to Wonder Woman, the show you and I last discussed (any particular version, though early Season 2 may be the most constructive?).
Kerensa: In relation to Wonder Woman and especially season 2, Remington Steele already seems like we will have SO much more to discuss that merely Diana’s outfits, Steve’s occasionally skeeviness and complete and utter disappointment in the lack of political bite that the show lost.
I mean from the get go we get Laura being completely up front about why she made the decision to have a fake figurehead in the form of Remington Steele because that she as a woman couldn’t get the respect or P.I. jobs that she deserved. And throughout the pilot she is constantly calling all these dudes on their misogyny. It’s pretty amazing. How did you feel about it in relation to Wonder Woman?
Noel: I feel like it’s a natural evolution for us in our discussions, regardless of it feels like much of an evolution for television history. Again, we have a woman and a man partnered up, a woman with something of a dual identity (in this case, the imaginary and hyper-masculine name Remington Steele), and she’s super competent at her job. Laura’s still hiding behind Remington Steele the same way that Diana, to a degree, hid behind Wonder Woman, but Laura’s pose is because the world just isn’t ready for her. Diana’s was just for admittedly awesome spinning and thunder claps.
What makes Remington a nice step forward from Wonder Woman is that both Laura and Remington are both essentially con artists. Laura does it for the benefit of her business and for others, and Remington does it for his own personal gain. It gives a level of evenness to their relationship, even right off the bat, that Wonder Woman had to work to and then discard as it decided Steve just wasn’t worth the trouble (and for the best, probably). That evenness helps to make the pilot feel decidedly of a time, but not necessarily of the time. Remington could easily be made today (and NBC was/is considering it, but of course it sounds horrible), albeit it would probably be with spies instead of detectives, so more of a North by Northwest feel, a movie this episode made a quick nod to with the hotel phone call and the issue of mistaken identity.
So tell me about the episode? What did you think?
Kerensa: I really liked this episode because I think it just sets everything up so well. We get the backstory of Laura’s decision to have this dual identity, get a bit about Remington (who is SUCH a babe) including bits and pieces including his motivations for working with Laura. I’m thinking about the mention of his dead brother specifically.
I think it also sets up a good idea of the interaction between Remington and Laura which is SO swoony/banter-y and everything I want in a TV pairing. I mean that scene where they share that bottle of champagne and just kinda gripe at each other was so great. And on top of that then I believe Remington says “tawdry thing that male chauvinism.” So good!
But honestly, the interactions between Laura and Remington were much more interesting to me and the potential office politics than the actual crime they were solving in this episode.
What did you think?
Noel: It is a super-premise-y episode. “This is how we got here, this is how they met, oh, look how they crazy each other up the wall and yet they clearly want to have sex.” Funnily, NBC, wanted to see like a sixth or seventh episode to see if the show could work, and then asked for this episode to explain everything when they agreed to put it on the schedule. Which is probably for the best! While I love the slow time-lapse photography opening that establishes Laura’s immediate backstory– IT’D BE RIGHT AT HOME ON THE CW TODAY! “My name is Laura Holt and…”–you sort of need to explain how this con man decided to fall in with woman and her agency.
And it wasn’t a bottle of champagne, Kerensa; it was a magnum because she “looked thirsty” and also because that’s way classier and swankier.
The actual would-be crime was a bit much, if only because I think there were too many things going on between the guy using the gems as a publicity stunt for his car that no one wants. It just needed the gems at an unveiling, but I think the show decided to try and make us care about the case with his story about trying to achieve a dream. And I even like the potential office politics, too, as Foxe and Murphy adjust to this interloper on the scene, particularly Murphy’s decidedly antagonistic attitude to Steele.
It is, as you note however, really the screwball antagonism between Laura and Remington that steals the episode. Sure, there’s that banter around the magnum of champagne, but, really, it’s when he goes up to the podium and poses as Steele in public that sold me. She gives him such death eyes, and then he sits back down and she whacks him with her clutch four or five times, and I’m dying. That would be enough, really, but then put then to put them on equal footing as he unraveled the entire scheme. She’s got a match in him, in more ways than one, and it’s lovely.
Let’s turn to our faux-Remington though. Do you really buy his dead brother story? The courier was 65 or something like that. I think everything he says is a big fat lie, and I’ll be shocked if we ever learn anything real about the man. Which leads to an interesting question: Does assuming the role of Remington make him that paragon of a man Laura imagined her Remington to be, or does he just happen to be that paragon naturally?
Kerensa: I don’t know if I really buy it. And I don’t think that assuming the role of Remington will make him that paragon that Laura imagined at all or that he’s that naturally. I think, and hope, that while he’ll assume that role on the surface we’ll see more of whoever he actually is slowly unravel and especially to Laura.
And you’d really be shocked if we learn anything real about him? I just kinda assumed that we would because of that Laura/Remington relationship. Granted, I haven’t really watched many of these male/female crime solving or whatever procedural shows, but it seems like it would fall in that vein. Because they have that chemistry or whatever that things would reveal themselves. I’m not wrong right?
Noel: Hmm. No, I think we won’t learn anything about him, and our Remington will be the dashing, debonair detective that Laura falls for, and he for her, of course, because screwball comedy impulses, and everyone would be fine with this? Maybe. Les could probably tell us since he’s actually seen the entire show.
What else…what else…Ah! The music! Henry Mancini provided the music, and it’s very jaunty and light, as you would expect from him. It did sort of seem at odds with the more subdued color palette for the show, which may be why that upbeat and airy jazz-like sound during the chase sequence (I loved Laura literally backseat driving with total confidence) felt a little jarring. The show is by no means dark, everything’s still well-lit, but it’s well-lit at the lower end of that spectrum, and with the exception of the Steele offices, there’s not a lot of color popping. Thoughts on that?
Kerensa: Let’s see how it plays out! I disagree and think we will get something genuine out of him eventually.
I really liked the music as well and I think the subdued color palette could be used purposefully to try to echo a noir-ish feel. I’d be curious to see how that changes in later episodes because it could just have been a decision that is only used in the pilot.
Anything else about the episode that stood out for you?
Noel: Tell me about the clothes, Kerensa. That Brosnan can wear clothes is not a surprise, but what say you about Laura’s outfits?
Kerensa: First off, I’m fairly certain that Brosnan was wearing a locket at one point.
I’m pretty into Laura’s menswear aesthetic! However, I HATED that red strapless ruffled dress she was wearing. Completely hated.
We haven’t settled on a schedule (i.e., weekly or every other week), but we’ll be going in order, one at a time, for the time being.