Friday, February 6, 2015

Flashback Friday: Remington Steele

  The Wife and I are undoubtably Children of the 80's. While that era is long ago, Netflix and Hulu are forever, so we are adding a new occasional entry to Don't Split the Party - Flashback Friday. This is where we discuss TV, movies, etc. from the past.

  One of the first stories my mother-in-law told me of my wife was about her obsession with Remington Steele. The main anecdote goes something like this;

  "J was almost a professional musician by the time she was 14 and she had a lot of commitments. She had missed the first run of a particular episode of Remington Steele, back before VCRs, and an important concert was going to end no more than 30 minutes before the re-run. In those days, of course, if you missed both showings that was it - you would never see it.
  "The concert ended with only 25 minutes to the beginning. She refused to change and hustled us to the car. Her dad sped pretty egregiously the entire time, but she was still frantic. We arrived home, she rushed in and turned on the TV, and she had only missed the intro dialog. Her life was saved!"

  I was fond of the TV show at the time, especially when it was using knowledge of classic films to solve crimes. Unlike the Wife I missed a lot of episodes (and the entire last season). I was aware that the hastily ordered last season had quite the impact on movies: Pierce Brosnan had been scheduled to be Bond in The Living Daylights and Stephanie Zimbalist was to be Anne Lewis in Robocop but the last minute contract triggers forced both to pull out giving the roles to Dalton and Allen, instead.

  Sidenote: someday I will write an alternate history story based on Harrison Ford never being a movie star.

  Over the past week the Wife and I have watched the first few episodes of Remington Steele.

Aging - Good: The show has aged surprisingly well. Pierce Brosnan's character tends to be dressed in a sort of retro-neo-classical stle, like a modern guy trying to dress like Jimmy Cagney playing a mobster. Stepahnie Zimbalist's character was trying to set her own style, which ends up being quirly enough to be appealing and almost timeless.

Aging - Bad: But the timelessness isn't everywhere. The computer game developers are developing - arcade consoles. The supporting cast of women have Really Big Hair. Some of the language is dated, too.

The Stories: One of the great things about detective shows is the plots are literally timeless. The stuff that worked for Poe and Doyle in the 19th Century work just fine now. There are nice twists, good hooks, and snappy dialog. Overall the writing and stories are solid

The Bad: Remington Steele was only in the top 25 of ratings for part of its third season. It didn't have a big budget, it didn't have a lot of love in the front office. While it is obvious they did their best things like cinematography, wardrobe, etc. are all workmanlike. Also, trying to strike a balance between serious, romantic, and comedic sometimes slipped into silly. The cast shakeups after season one are understandable, but changed the tone quite a bit, too.

The Good: The acting. It is obvious why Brosnan went on to be Bond. Zimbalist is more than solid, too. Many of the quest stars are top-notch, as well, and the writers took advantage of that. This show also effectively invented the "will they/won't they" dynamic between the male and female leads that was so critical to following shows from Moonlighting to the contemporary Arrow. And arguably with the good writing, the acting of Zimbalist and Brosnan, and their excellent chemistry they did it best.

Can It Help Your Game?: Certainly. The relationships between the leads, the puzzles and crimes they solve, and the twists are all great preparation for contemporary settings. With very minor tweaks they can be agent/spy stories and with a touch more work street level supers or Gangbuster-style capers.

Overall: A great deal of fun and still fun to watch over 30 years later.

Our Rating: 4 out of 4

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