Created by Michael Sloan & Richard Lindheim
Developed for television (2021) by Andrew W. Marlowe & Terri Edda Miller
“Got a problem? Odds against you? I can help.”
All things being equal, the 20212 reboot of 1980’s TV cult fave The Equalizer is a bit of a dud.
Not that my hopes were too high. The original series, which aired on CBS from 1985 to 1989, was no great classic, but Edward Woodward tackled the role of cynical, guilt-ridden former secret agent Robert McCall with a certain quiet and gritty grace. Disillusioned by all he had seen (and done) in his years working for “The Company,” he set himself up as a sort of well-dressed justice-for-hire vigilante in New York City, dispatching his own kind of “justice” with ice-cold efficiency; the promise of some sort of redemption for McCall always lingering just out of reach.
As I said, no lost classic, and it was often compelling, and many still look back on it fondly.
So naturally, Hollywood–having recycled seemingly everything else, came sniffing around, and eventually re-imagined McCall as… Denzel Washington? The ultra-violent 2014 action flick The Equalizer was followed a few years later by the even more bloody and creatively titled The Equalizer 2, but they were both mostly useless. McCall was still a former agent, but gone were the smooth rides, the classy wardrobe or the tight-lipped demeanor of Woodward–instead we got a seemingly schlubby but charming (Hey! It’s Denzel!) Home Depot worker (and later, Lyft driver) who pivots into a coldly efficient, shuck-and-jiving killing machine. Any dumber and these films would have starred Bruce Wills.
So, when it was announced in 2020 that CBS was bringing The Equalizer back to television, and that rapper, singer, actor and force of nature Queen Latifah was going to be the new Equalizer, re-named ROBYN McCALL, I wasn’t sure what to think. The stench of Netflix’s Spenser Confidential and HBO’s Perry Mason was still lingering in the air, but Latifah was an intriguing bit of casting. She certainly possessed the grit and gravitas for the role of a disillusioned CIA operative reborn as a pro-bono crimefighter, and she had oodles of street cred. And frankly, the idea of McCall recast as a tough, savvy Black woman in 2020 sounded appealingly timely.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, any grit was filtered out and any remaining gravitas was swapped out for comic book portentousness and by-the-numbers posturing, while the whole concept of the brooding, world-weary lone wolf seeking penance was ash-canned so quickly it could make your head spin. Sure, McCall was still a former agent living in New York City, but she’s more wink-wink skeptical than Woodward’s scorched-earth cynical. She’s still a seemingly well-off retired agent, but now she’s supposedly running a couple of international charities, and living in a nicely appointed suburban home with both her often disapproving Aunt Vi, and Delilah, her predictably troublesome and headstrong teenage daughter. Both, of course, seem completely unaware of Robyn’s former occupation or current secret identity. There’s no trace of Delilah’s father, of course, although I’m sure his details will be revealed some day in a “very special episode.” But there is an awful lot of domestic drama and inter-generational squabbling among the three strong-willed women.
Nor is Robyn heading out on the streets alone–she’s got her peeps, man. Harry Keshegian is a computer whiz with “freaky ass” hacking superpowers, which of course eliminates the need for Robyn to do much actual leg work, and his wife, Melody Bayani, is a former Air Force sniper whose aim is as true as that of Granny Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies–and just as believable. Together the chemistry-free couple run a bar, with a Batcave-like secret room full of Harry’s computer gear and more electrical doodads than the deck of the USS Enterprise. Also on hand, usually on a deserted street corner under a streetlight, offering advice and occasional assistance, is Chris Noth as William Bishop, Robyn’s former handler, who now runs a private security company (but please–don’t ask too many questions about that).
They’ve even saddled Robyn with a possible love interest of sorts: Marcus Dante, a principled but suspicious NYPD detective who serves as her cop frenemy. He doesn’t trust Robyn, and doesn’t approve of her methods, but finds himself reluctantly working with her when their interests collide. Which is most episodes.
I dunno. I really wanted this show to work, but both the previous series and the movies, for better or worse, were at least of their time. This newest version, while aiming for some sort of nebulous wokefullness, feels disappointingly retro at times; beyond an obvious attempt to be diverse as fuck and some high-tech woo woo, the show reminds me more of a spy show from the sixties–maybe The Girl From U*N*C*L*E, minus the nudge-nuge playfulness, or perhaps Mission Impossible, minus the cleverness and complicated scams. Latifah remains intriguing, but her character just hasn’t gelled–it’s difficult to balance the nagging suburban mom with the swaggering urban crimefighter, dropping wisecracks as she high-kicks gang members in the face. Meanwhile the plots so far are disappointingly predictable or, occasionally utterly ridiculous, and the villains even more so (apparently the well-intentioned diversity doesn’t extend to bad guys).
Sure, Robyn does her equalizing with a smile on her face, as she cuts through Manhattan on her big black motorcycle like nobody’s business, and she’s always, it seems, perfectly coiffed and fashionably attired, whatever the occasion. But more often she comes across as just a well-groomed but slightly aggrieved soccer mom with a peculiar skill set. I mean, how many other shows will try to pair mean girls high school drama or curfew squabbles with murderous foreign agents or seemingly omnipotent serial killers? Just not what I was expecting…
But, as always, what do I know? Here we are, with only a half dozen or so episodes airing, the ratings already dropping, and yet CBS has already ordered up a second season.
- “I serves as an equalizer. I’m the one you call when you can’t call 9-1-1.”
— Robyn explains it all
- THE EQUALIZER
Based on characters created by by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim
Developed for television (2021) by Andrew W. Marlowe & Terri Edda Miller
Writers: Andrew W. Marlowe, Terri Edda Miller, Erica Shelton Kodish, Jospeh C. Wilson, Keith Eisner, Zoe Robyn(?), Keith Eisner, Joe Gazzam
Directors: Liz Friedlander, Randy Zisk, Peter Leto, Solvan “Slick” Naim,
Executive producer: Queen Latifah and about a dozen more
Music by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge
Starring Queen Latifah as ROBYN McCALL
With Laya DeLeon Hayes as Delilah
Lorraine Toussaint as Aunt Vi
Tory Kittles as Marcus Dane
Adam Goldberg as Harry Keshigian
Liza Lapira as Melody Rayani
and Chris Noth as William Bishop
Also starring Lorna Courtney, Erica Camarano, Jennifer Ferrin
- SEASON ONE
- “The Equalizer” (February 7, 2021)
- “Glory” (February 14, 2021)
- “Judgement Day” (February 21, 2021)
- “It Takes a Village” (February 28, 2021)
- “The Milk Run” (March 28, 2021)
- “The Room Where It Happens” (April 4, 2021)
- “Hunting Grounds” (May 2, 2021)
- “Lifeline” (May 9, 2021)
- “True Believer” (May 16, 2021)
- “Reckoning” (May 23, 2021)