Remington Steele Season 5 Review

  • Series Title: Remington Steele
  • Season: 5 (Packaged with Season 4)
  • Episodes: 3 (2-hour TV movies)
  • Discs: 1 (Double-Sided)
  • Cast: Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan, Doris Roberts
  • Original Network: NBC
  • Original Production Company: MTM

The DVD boxed set includes Season 4 and Season 5 packaged together as a single set. Here is my Remington Steele Season 4 Review. And now on to the review of Season 5, which is three TV movies.

I was a huge fan of Remington Steele when it originally aired, and I remember at the time being excited for a fifth season after the fourth season cancellation. But then, I also remember being very disappointed by the TV movies that aired for the fifth season. And then, there was the issue that Pierce Bronsan was up for James Bond at the time, but NBC wouldn’t let him out of his contract and forced him to do the last season of Remington Steele instead. As a result, both Stephanie Zimbalist, and Pierce Bronsan were pretty miserable to be forced into doing a show they simply didn’t want to do anymore. But to be fair, this does not show on camera.

“The Steele that Wouldn’t Die” picks up where the last episode of season 4 left off – with a trashed Laura Holt marrying Remington Steele on a fishing boat in front of an INS rep to avoid Steele being deported. Laura fantasies about a beautiful wedding but her reality is far different. There’s a brief post-wedding scene at Steele’s apartment, then Laura and Steele head out on their honeymoon in Mexico. When they arrive – it’s one disaster after another as they end-up at an awful hotel in the middle of the jungle. Steele has to go to the next town 30 miles away to exchange money and find a phone to figure out what went wrong about their travel plans. Meanwhile, even though she knows Malvados are shooting at anything that moves – Laura goes out for a walk in the jungle. Steele drives into a pool of dirty water and trashes his outfit, but finds the beautiful hotel in Las Hadas, checks in to the bridal suite and contacts Mildred by phone. Laura, meanwhile, gets attacked by Malvados, rescued by an “archeologist” by the name of Tony Roselli, is pushed by Tony into a river, falls down a huge waterfall, and tramps through the jungle to a set of ruins. It’s all very Romancing the Stone. Tony though is definitely not who he says he is – he’s seen talking to the Malvados, thanking them for the obviously set-up attack that he rescues Laura from. So, Laura, once again also gets trashed, but not as badly as the last episode of Season 4.

Once in Las Hadas, which really is beautiful, both the hotel and the setting, Laura and Remington argue about Tony – when Remington treats Tony nicely, Laura gets angry; when he starts to show his jealousy – she also gets angry, so Steele can’t win. Tony also has a girlfriend, Conchita, who keeps showing up – not that the Steeles (Laura and Remington) realize it. Norman Keyes of Vigilance Insurance also is in Las Hadas and keeps starting arguments and fights with Steele. Steele returns to his room one night and finds Keyes dead. Instead of calling the police, or the hotel manager, or even finding Laura to tell her what’s happened – Steele takes the body and tries to hide it in a cabana on the beach. He is, of course, caught by the police and put in jail.

Mildred arrives, and she and Laura, with “help” from Tony start to investigate. They basically discover  that Keyes’ “death” is an insurance scam. Keyes upped his insurance to two million dollars, naming his “niece” as beneficiary. He also changed the travel plans, keeping Steele out of the way and making it look like Steele had arranged the changes and set himself (Keyes) up. The niece had also arrived much earlier than she claimed to help Keyes frame Steele. Finally, Keyes wasn’t actually dead.

Our heroes figure all of this out – and Mildred breaks Steele out of jail.  Laura, Steele, Mildred, and Tony find Keyes, who is alive, and a chase ensues – by sea, over the land, and by air. Steele catches Keyes, the police show up, while Steele is distracted – Keyes escaped, but then Keyes gets shot.

So Steele is cleared of the murder charge. And in the way of 1980s television – nothing is made of various other charges (breaking out of jail, various breaking-and-entering, stealing of a boat and a car, disturbing a crime scene/moving a body, etc.) The jungle scenes at the beginning where Laura meets Tony are not very convincing – it really looks like a set, and a not very good one at that. Even the waterfall, that should have been filmed, at least in part on location (yes, I’m sure the actors weren’t dropped 50 feet) feels off. The scenes in Las Hadas and Keyes mansion hideout, though, are gorgeous – and it’s clear someone decided to spend money on a location shoot. Much of the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense. Keyes works for an insurance company. He has a long-standing grudge against Steele, but it doesn’t make sense. Why would he care if Steele was “illegal”? It’s none of his business really. It’s not as if insurance companies work for the INS. The actual INS officer actually seems very impressed that Laura and Remington’s feelings and marriage are the real deal. The whole “being deported” plot, with its “fake marriage” is uncomfortable. It was a common plot in the 1980s, when “foreigners” were viewed with suspicion and the romantic comedy Green Card (1990) generated controversy for “showing people how to do something illegal”. Yeah. There’s probably a bigger problem that Steele is an alias than that Remington supposedly entered the country illegally. And really, what are they going to do? Deport “Remington Steele”? He doesn’t exist. Laura’s slight attraction to Tony also makes no sense – and it’s really, really obvious that he’s up to no good – and the professional detectives don’t figure this out? The movies quoted in this episode are from the 1980s – several from 1985 are mentioned. Steele’s situation is lifted from Green Card (mind you, upon checking Green Card was released after this episode). Whereas the fun of Remington Steele was the references to old movies – the key is old movies, classics, most people probably don’t even remember Romancing the Stone any more. The modern references not only take the viewer out of the story, like an anachronism – they actually make the plot seem less original.

Overall, I’d give “The Steele that Wouldn’t Die” 3 out of 5 stars. I will say it wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered (the Las Hadas locations are gorgeous for example), and there are some very, very, very funny bits that don’t depend on poking fun at the characters as well. But they could have done so much better!

In “Steele Hanging in There”, Laura and Remington return from their honeymoon in Mexico, but Steele receives a letter from a new INS agent that they are still interested in him due to the death of Norman Keyes. They head to the office and find a waiting room full of clients. Steele talks to a very sexist potential client, who asks Laura to get him coffee, pats her butt, and refers to her as “Steele’s little woman”. Other than pointing out that Laura doesn’t like being called, “the little woman”, Steele joins in on the jokes, rather than pointing out Laura is a full-fledged investigator and his partner in the firm (well, technically – she’s his boss). Laura takes another client in her office. The man is an accountant who fears a painting was stolen. He was working on a client’s estate, and the painting was held in a gallery, but now the owner of the gallery isn’t returning his calls. Laura enters the closed gallery and finds the painting missing. But the client continuously asks for Steele to take over. And when Steele does arrive, and is clueless about the case (because Laura hasn’t had a chance to fill him in yet), the client defers to him anyway. Steele is reduced to blathering that they will “follow standard procedures” although he does remark that he functions best in an advisory capacity.

The situations with the cases would be frustrating enough, but Laura and Remington also have to deal with the INS. They make plans for a nice dinner with the new agent at Remington’s house. But that night, “Shannon”, an old friend of Remington’s shows up and aims to marry him. His protests that he’s already married fall on deaf ears. Seeing Remington with Shannon – when Tony Roselli shows up at the apartment door – Laura throws herself in to his arms, and kisses him passionately. She then immediately introduces him as her brother to the now very suspicious INS agent. Later Laura backs off any romantic interest in Tony, stating she’s serious about her marriage and her husband.

Tony, meanwhile, is just as suspicious as ever. He shows up at the INS and pushes the female agent assigned to the Steele marriage case around. He claims he wants his position back. Later it turns out Laura’s client, the one with the painting reports to him. And once the episode moves to England, he meets a mysterious white-haired man who seems to be pulling all the strings. Tony, it seems, is some sort of spy.

Still working on the case with the painting, and having no idea the entire thing is fake, Laura, Mildred, and Remington fly off to London in pursuit of a clue. At the hotel, Laura discovers a solicitor with news – Remington Steele has inherited a million pounds from the Earl of Claridge. However, the solicitor also tells her another woman already talked to him, claiming to be Steele’s wife. It’s Shannon. Shannon tells Laura she’s being blackmailed and needs to recover some incriminating photos. Laura helps her sneak in (via the tour) to a castle, but all they find is a dead body. Remington, trying to catch up to Laura, finds the body and is, of course, caught with it. He’s brought in by Tony to INS, but Tony tells him he will make Shannon’s statement disappear if Steele does him a favor – the dangerous kind. Remington has to deliver some documents, in the dead of night. If he succeeds, Tony will see to it that his INS problems are history.

There is a wonderful scene at the “Flamingo Club” a traditional ballroom dance club, where Steele, Laura, Tony, and Shannon – dance, including several changes of partners to liven up a lot of exposition. In essence, the audience knows what’s going on, but various characters don’t – so they catch each other up while dancing. It’s beautifully acted and directed (Even Shannon’s “the Greek” whom both Laura and Remington assumed didn’t exist shows up to take pot shots at everyone.) The only problem is the big band music is bland – it should have been Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners and Dance”, since that is what they were doing. Later as Tony and Remington talk, the music is “Chattanooga Choo Choo” which has nothing to do with the plot either. It was a missed opportunity – and the 1938 song is no doubt out of copyright.

Steele succeeds in delivering Tony’s papers, and both the misunderstanding with the dead body at the castle and presumably Steele’s INS troubles are over. Shannon will no longer be a problem. Laura and Steele meet with a solicitor, Steele signs some papers, and then he learns his inheritance is a castle – in Ireland. Laura and Steele decide to take the train and then the boat to Ireland. The story ends with a “To Be Continued” card.

Over all the second TV movie for the abbreviated fifth season of Remington Steele isn’t bad. Tony is annoying, but Steele discovers he really is up to no good, and Laura says straight out she’s not interested in him. Shannon, played wonderfully by Sarah Douglas, is there mostly as a romantic frustration anyway – and she’s written out. This story picks up from the previous one and leaves a few loose ends for the final film. Again, once Steele and Laura are out of LA their relationship improves, as does the story. Overall, more enjoyable that the previous TV movie, if only because Laura and Remington are no longer getting trashed for “humorous” plot reasons. We still don’t know who Tony really is, or who he works for. Some hints that he informed British intelligence of double agents and wasn’t believed, and some scandal in the INS got him sent to South America for several years – none of which makes sense. What does Vigilance Insurance and INS have to do with British Intelligence? None of those agencies work together. It’s like with Keyes – why does he even care about Remington Steele’s citizenship status? It’s none of his business. And if he thinks Steele is involved in insurance fraud (and citizenship cases, even fraudulent ones, usually don’t involve insurance) that still has nothing to do with the INS. It’s all very weird and convoluted. I liked the re-introduction of the Earl of Claridge though.

Finally, in “Steeled with a Kiss”, Laura, Steele, Mildred, and Tony Roselli arrive in Ireland. After a few minutes of ‘humorous’ discussion of directions with the locals, they are met by the staff of Ashford Castle and taken to the estate. At the castle, each member of the staff presents Mr. Steele (or “his lordship” as they call him) with a bill for their department. And the bills are for thousands of pounds. Apparently, the castle has been in arrears for a very long time. Mildred finds and reads a history of the castle, and throughout the story presents Laura and Remington with trivia about it as well as pointing out that any plan to deal with the castle’s debts has already been tried and failed. I did think that this two-part story missed a major opportunity with Mildred. She was introduced on the series as a crack IRS investigator, and as her character was developed, she was also shown to be brilliant with computers and 80s-style hacking. I wanted Steele to ask her to go over the castle’s books and come up with something. No doubt, Mildred would. But she’s merely delivering rather pointless information, and trivia such as the castle’s ghost story.

At the castle, Laura and Remington also run in to Daniel Chalmers (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) He seems to be ill, and, although at first Laura assumes he’s faking – when she finds a drawer full of pills in his room in the castle, she realizes he’s really ill. The end of the part 1 cliffhanger also has Chalmers admitting to Laura he’s Steele’s real father. After finding this out – Laura tries (and eventually succeeds) in convincing him to tell Steele the truth. When, towards the end of the episode, Daniel tells “Harry” (Remington) the truth, he does get angry, but then, after a brilliant conversation with Mildred, he goes back to Daniel to apologize in a very male way (the two trade stories about the various cons they’ve played), including discussing the events of “Sting of Steele” (not by episode name) one of the series most brilliant episodes. Anyway, we know the two have reconciled, Steele goes to pour Daniel the drink he’s requested, and when he turns back, Daniel is slumped in a chair. He’s passed away. It’s very sad – but it leads to the denouement of the story.

Daniel is also in Ireland helping an American woman (played by Barbara Babcock) who is trying to find out what happened to her father, who is being held as a political prisoner by the (Soviet) Russians. Much of the episode consists of this plot actually. The woman (who uses a lot of aliases so I’m not quite sure what her name was) and Daniel originally plan on kidnapping Tony, whom they think is a double agent, turn him over to the Russians, and in return obtain information from the Russian diplomat about the woman’s father. However, the story almost turns into a farce. They knock out Tony, deliver him, and while waiting to speak to the Russian – Laura, or Steele, or even Mildred, rescues Tony. This happens two or three times. Daniel and Steele also kidnap the Russian and chain him to an actual wall in an actual dungeon in the castle. The Russian gets kidnapped twice.

But that’s not all. Steele eventually finds out that Tony is not a double agent, his contact at British intelligence, Finch (the white-haired, older, un-named gentleman from the previous two-parter) is the actual double agent. He also set-up Tony, and even tried to have him killed in the previous story.

The main story line is Daniel trying to help the mysterious American woman secure her father from the Russians; and for Tony to clear his name (and get out of the Steeles’ hair). Both are accomplished. Daniel even does what fans of Remington Steele wanted all along – revealing to Steele he is his father. Even Daniel’s death leads into how Steele and Laura help the American woman – a game of three-card monte (or as Steele says, three shells and a pea) played with coffins. It works and Daniel is even posthumously knighted and buried in the UK and simultaneously buried as a “hero of the state” in Russia.

I really enjoyed this final story. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. was one of the best parts of the series, and the episodes he is in always shine brighter. Not that the series wasn’t good without him – it’s still one of the best series of the 1980s and it did launch Pierce Brosnan’s career. The scene of Remington attacking Daniel verbally after finding out he’s his father was brilliantly played and not over done at all. Occasionally in this series, Brosnan did over-play emotional (or comedic) scenes but not here – it’s heart-felt and Brosnan gives it his all. It brings tears to the eyes. The story does also end with Laura and Remington together in his Irish castle (which he gives to the servants). Finally, the two are together. It makes one smile in the way of the best romantic comedies.

The tale of Tony is also wrapped-up. We discover he isn’t a double-agent, but was set-up by one. This story never mentions Vigilance Insurance or the INS – which, really, is all for the better – as those story lines never made sense anyway. Maybe Steele and Laura end-up settling in Ireland? Or if they do return to the US, let’s hope any legal issues are behind them. Tony does continuously hit on, badger, and try to win over Laura. Fortunately, it doesn’t work. There’s even a scene, which is well-played and brilliantly shot, on a Irish street, where Tony asks Laura if she doesn’t feel a spark between them. Laura’s response is that “Maybe if they met a few years ago…” She doesn’t out and out tell him, as she did in the story before, she’s committed to Steele – but for once, her actions speak louder than her words, as it’s obvious that she is. Literally, “for better or worse”, she is committed to Steele. The only thing that could have made it better would have been Laura and Remington actually getting married, in Ireland, at Steele’s castle! Tony then insists he will continue to pursue Laura despite her lack of interest. In a show that constantly shows the sexism that women face, especially women in so-called “male” careers – this is a prime example of just how sexist men are, without being strident about it. Tony assumes she must want him, therefore, he assumes he has the “right” to chase her. Laura has told him “no” several times; and her actions speak volumes about her lack of interest. That is the definition of sexual harassment right there. But Remington Steele also doesn’t dwell on it – and many viewers probably barely noticed, except maybe to think that Tony was a jerk.

Overall, I found myself actually really enjoying the last TV movie for Remington Steele. Yes, the show had lost some of its spark, but at least this particular story has humor, sadness, and above all it is satisfying. Watching the final episode made me happy. You really can’t ask more of a TV show from the 1980s. Or a romantic comedy. Watching Remington Steele just makes me happy. Highly recommended.


Remington Steele Season 4

  • Series Title: Remington Steele
  • Season: 4 (Packaged with Season 5)
  • Episodes: 21
  • Discs: 4 (Double-Sided)
  • Cast: Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan, Doris Roberts
  • Original Network: NBC
  • Original Production Company: MTM 

Before I start with my review of this season set – I really need to mention some technical issues. First, these are double-sided discs. I really hate double-sided discs – they are even more likely to be damaged than normal DVDs, even with careful handling. Second, my set is missing the final two episodes of Season 4. Disc four lists four episodes: “Steele in the Running”; “Beg, Borrow or Steele”; and “Steele Alive and Kicking”; and “Bonds of Steele”. “Steele Alive and Kicking” and “Bonds of Steele” are no where to be found. You put in the disc and a menu comes up for the first two episodes and that is it. When I pay for a full season, I expect a full season and this sort of shoddy workmanship is annoying and unfair. The next disc of the set starts the tele-movies that makes up Season 5.

That said, though, I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Season 4 of Remington Steele. Not that I wasn’t sure I’d like this series – I loved it when I originally saw it in the 1980s, and when I re-watched it in the 1990s on some cheap cable station, I was surprised by how well it stood up. However, I remembered not really liking Season 4 – and really disliking Season 5. Yet, when re-watching Season 4 I liked it. I genuinely enjoyed each episode as I watched it. The first episode of Season 4 is a two-parter, set in London, England, which features Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Stephanie’s real father, and a relatively frequent guest star throughout the series), Catherine Harris (Pierce Brosnan’s real wife, who passed away shortly thereafter from cancer), and Julian Glover (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Magnum PI (guest),  Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) as a guest star. Steele attempts to find clues to his past and his real father, Laura is pushed to decide how much she trusts Steele, Mildred finally discovers the truth – that Laura runs the agency not Steele, and Laura and Steele’s relationship is taken to a new level. Plus the story is an excellent mystery with red herrings, side steps, and a very sweet ending. It’s a good start. The rest of the season features OK to good to excellent mysteries, but the characterization is excellent. Now that she knows the truth, Mildred is less the bumbling grandmotherly secretary and more of a real character. The episode where she quits because she feels both Steele and Laura are taking her for granted is really good. Mildred also gets promised the chance to earn her investigator’s license. Also, each episode of the Season 4 ends with Steele and Laura in a clench or even kissing. The romance the show had teased the audience with for four years is finally on the screen in a warm and wonderful way.

Remington Steele was an influential series for me as a young woman. Not only did I become a huge fan of Pierce Brosnan for life, but the show was one of the few that featured a woman as lead and as an equal partner with a man. Other programs at the time either had entirely male casts (Magnum PI, Riptide, The A-Team, etc.) or even if they had a woman in the cast she was often secondary or the show was entirely about the romance (Moonlighting, Scarecrow and Mrs. King). Remington Steele had romance as well, but the mysteries were at the core of the stories.

The second thing about Remington Steele that was very important to me is that it’s the reason I became a fan of classic film. The character of Remington Steele was a fan of the cinema – and had an encyclopedic knowledge of film. While working on a case, he’d mention a classic movie – “North by Northwest, Cary Grant, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, MGM 1959,” which the case somehow reminded him of. But not only did Steele mention these films – he was enthusiastic about them. He gushed about them. In short, Steele talked like a fan about whatever it was he or she was a fan of – a television show, a movie, a book, a comic. Steele showed us, in a time when being a fan, being enthusiastic about media was decidedly not cool, that it was OK to be a fan. And his very enthusiasm about the films made me want to actually see them. Remington Steele made me the Classic Film fan and movie fan that I am. Season 4 has considerably less of the references to films and movies, which is too bad – but the characters of Steele, Laura, and Mildred have grown so that makes up for it in a way.

So, overall, recommended, though I’d really like to see MTM or NBC re-release the entire series in a box set that wasn’t on cheap double-sided discs. Season 5 to be reviewed later.