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"The Equalizer" was a unique and amazing series. I followed each episode
with great interest. The ensemble of talent was remarkable - Edward
having started out as a Shakespearean actor.
Hostile comments against this brilliant series derive largely from an inability to understand what McCall represented and who he was. A veteran of the British Army, he served in the Suez conflict and - while in the SAS - in operations in Malaya against Maoist gunmen. On leaving the British service he was recruited by the CIA who had apparently heard of his SAS exploits and talent in intelligence gathering. As his mother was an American, he could qualify as a US citizen - combine that with his last name, and he hardly qualifies as an Englishman. In the CIA he worked in Vietnam, where he met many of his later New York allies.
The character of Robert McCall may be in his early-mid fifties, but has a background of training and experience which would humble any supposedly tough petty-thug. For better organised enemies, McCall has a loyal following of friends to call on, including a selection of law enforcement personnel and ex-Special Forces men.
Therefore, he is not the tea-sipping greying middle-aged gentleman he may appear to be at first.
I adored this show. It requires a certain depth of historical knowledge to fully understand.
The Equalizer-like so many shows from the 80's-is pure
It had a very dark premise. Robert McCall was a guy who helped people whose lives were in danger and had no one to turn to. Woodward was very serious and menacing as Robert McCall. McCall may not have been a young man and may not have been capable of jumping onto the top of a van or chasing after the bad guys on foot but he was dangerous. His voice was menacing and he put the fear into every bad guy he ever met. Once he took on an assignment (sometimes for no pay)he would not stop until he finished the job. Many of the bad guys were killed by McCall.
The best thing about this show was the premise. In the 1980's we had a lot of altruistic heroes (such as The A-Team and Michael Knight)who always helped the needy and always put the bad guy away-no matter how much above the law the bad guys thought they were. McCall was always there for people who needed him. That was the great thing about this show. Nowadays on TV, characters are out for themselves and will betray people on a whim, even the good guys. The likes of McCall were not like that-they were caring. No-body could kill them, scare them off or pay them off. They were true heroes.
"The Equalizer" was an action-adventure TV series unlike any that I had
seen before. It effectively mixed espionage, crime drama, and the private
eye genres into a wonderful film noir package. Robert McCall (played to
perfection by Edward Woodward) was no Mike Hammer, nor was he meant to
He relied more on brains than brawn and his plans worked like a game of
chess. Whether he attended an embassy affair or was running down a lead
guns dealer in the South Bronx, McCall seemed right at home.
Disenchanted with his cloak-and-dagger life in the CIA, and perhaps seeking some redemption for some of his darker exploits in the name of God and Country, he broke away from "the Company," and offered his services to people in trouble.
McCall's strength was his abilities as a strategist and tactician. Although he was quite able in shootouts and fisticuffs, he tended to leave the rough stuff to other operatives who sometimes took time off from their day jobs (usually in the CIA) to work for McCall. One of his most trusted colleagues was his comrade-in-arms Mickey Kostmeyer (played by Keith Szarabajka), a Company man who seemed willing to dive into any dangerous situation for the thrill.
Although McCall resigned from the CIA, he continued to maintain contact with his friend and former boss, a man known only as Control (played by Robert Lansing). There is a history of camraderie between Control and McCall, but Control's job tends to get in the way of that friendship. When one of Control's operations involved lying to McCall, and McCall confronted him, Control's only response was, "It's what I do for a living, Robert."
All in all, a wonderful show with high production values. I'm only sorry it lasted four seasons.
I have seen all the episodes at least 3 times; first on CBS, then USA, and
then on A&E. Now it is on Hallmark.
Like other reviewers, I found the show refreshing and unique. I thought the choice of Edward Woodward was curious (a Brit for a Yank?)But I was willing to let it slide through.
Robert Lansing's portrayal as a District or Station Chief was well cast. Like most American TV series, it takes a season or two to become really good. The show had good writing, good actors and actresses, and good cinematography. I think that it was one of the best series produced.
The Robert McCall character had the potential of becoming a cardboard character. Woodward's acting skills prevented that, thank God. I found the premise of a disillusioned CIA Case Officer to be believable. The look-and-feel of McCall reminded me of the legendary William King Harvey of Indianapolis. It is uncanny.
I found the story line of internal CIA `political' struggles to be realistic. Remember, this was just after the infamous Senator Frank Church Commission which effectively gutted the CIA. We built the CIA to prevent any more Pearl Harbors. Then through internal political dissention (and ideology sympathy) we made it a Hollow, blind Man. Many veteran Case Officers were `forced out' at that time.
In the Army I made the acquaintance of some Mickey Kostmayer types. I liked the acting of Keith Szarabajka. His naturalness made the character believable according to the real people that I met.
After Woodward's heart attack, I thought that the inclusion of Richard Jordan was well cast. I was sorry to see his character fade out. He was just starting to come into his own.
The technical aspects were, at the time, quite startling. The `Trade Craft' was superb. I never did learn if the writers had access to old Case Officers or not. There is one scene where McCall tracks down someone using recorded voices from the telephone system. The NSA must have had fits over that one.
I have several favorite episodes, but one of two that stands out in my mind is where McCall is trying to teach street punks about what death is all about. He takes them to a morgue to see a stiff. While there, he introduces them to an old colleague who tells them about Hell. It was quite chilling, but very accurate.
The other episode is where he is trapped in a wedding reception as a hostage. The techniques and tactics that McCall used were very real. It should be required viewing for future operatives. Like other reviewers, I was sorry to see it cancelled. I felt that it had a few more seasons left.
One of the other reviewers mentions that the Equalizer replacement was Wiseguy. Interesting that, like the Equalizer, Wiseguy was modeled after a real person (Donnie Brasko) and a real situation. Yes, very interesting.
A very strong series during its initial run and in the occasional burst of
reruns that can be found occasionally.
Edward Woodward is a superb actor, and was a sharp contrast to most other private detectives of the day (and indeed, even today). The 80's might as well have been called the "Era of the P.I." with so many series centered around them (Magnum P.I., Simon and Simon, Riptide, even Miami Vice and the other police shows). But Robert McCall was an entirely different kind of detective. He was a seemingly mild mannered Englishman, who dressed sharply and drove a cool Jaguar. He rarely engaged in any kind of physical struggles, yet was probably the most menacing of any television P.I. While the others were jumping onto the hoods of cars and duking it out with the bad guys, McCall's quiet presence and absolute lack of any fear whatsoever was thrilling. The fact that a middle aged man who looks more like a University professor than a detective could look so menacing and literally HARDCORE speaks volumes about Woodward's acting capability.
Probably the best theme music ever written, as well.
Amid designer-superficiality like "Miami Vice" and myriad juvenile Glen
Larson productions, "The Equalizer" came as a breath of fresh air when
first broadcast in 1985. After many years in the wilderness, American
studios recognised the intelligence of their audience and produced a
well-scripted, well-acted action drama with character, depth and real
The central premise was of a British military officer named Robert McCall who had served the latter half of his career with an American intelligence agency nickednamed "The Company" (although it approximated the real-life CIA) but had grown disillusioned with its methods. The series starts with McCall having resigned and decided to use his espionage, intelligence-gathering and combat skills on a lone crusade to champion the victims of crime, apparently as some form of atonement for his shady past.
But McCall could never fully escape The Company. Occasionally he needed some of its resources to help him tackle the job at hand. While his ex-superior, known only as "Control" (played by Robert Lansing), was sympathetic to McCall's reasons for quitting, he was never fully prepared to let him go, both because of his skills and the sensitive secrets he carried with him. Indeed many episodes saw McCall being drawn back into Company operations. The two men remained friends but their relationship was on a constant knife-edge (and often led to some of the series' best "stand off" dialogue moments).
The first two seasons wrought a tremendous variety in interesting story lines, had good dialogue and the performances of Edward Woodward, his regular co-stars and the often-abrasive interplay between their characters lifted the show further.
Location shooting in New York was used highly effectively and Stewart Copeland's startling, unique musical style lent the show a sparky, effervescent, slightly off-beat air.
The staging of action scenes was reasonable, though would never match the sensational jousts witnessed in Brit series such as The Sweeney and The Professionals. In fairness, though, The Equalizer trod a more realistic path in this respect.
The series' sole fault, during the first three seasons, was that the scripts became rather formulaic. With a few notable exceptions, the plots tended to revolve around a well-established, predictable pattern: McCall would receive a call from some distressed individual being terrorised; they would meet to discuss the problem at hand; McCall would then use his dubious contacts to dig up some dirt on the aggressor, who McCall would then threaten and, ultimately, end up having to kill - though all imbued with a liberal dose of pathos, of course!
The production schedule on the series was frenetic and with most scenes requiring the involvement of Woodward, it maybe shouldn't have been a surprise that he, a heavy smoker, suffered a heart attack during filming on the third season in 1987. Actor Richard Jordan was brought in to lighten McCall's load for several episodes. While a perfectly understandable move, in many viewers' minds it appeared that Jordan was taking over.
By the time of the fourth season Woodward had returned full-time and Jordan was phased out. But a necessary reduction in the strenuous exercise regime Woodward had previously followed meant he was far from the dynamic powerhouse he had once been. The show took on a new direction and embraced socially-sensitive themes. (In one episode a small boy is dying of AIDS and being harassed by frightened, ignorant neighbours.) Although audience rating were not as strong as before, they remained high...
Unfortunately CBS was apparently suffering from internal power struggles and some of its senior staff wanted to launch new series at the expense of existing ones. "The Equalizer" was axed after completing its usual 22-episode production. Neither Woodward nor a huge campaign of public support could convince CBS to change its mind.
The situation for the UK was actually worse. For reasons that have never been clear, proper peak-time screenings (on the ITV network) of the final season stalled after a few episodes. Naturally many Brits assumed the show had been cancelled mid-season. The remaining eventually aired via regional syndication in late-night "graveyard" slots with no publicity. In fact some ITV regions opted out completely, the affected editions being buried amongst repeat runs in the 1990s. It was an astonishing attitide to adopt as the show had actually been even more successful in the UK than its home country! Once can only suppose that denial of a complete network run was due to CBS.
The series had to wait for many years until it was made available on videocassette and even then only nine episodes from the first season were issued. Yet - probably to CBS' embarrassment - repeat runs continued to demonstrate the show's enduring appeal. In early 2008 the first season was issued on DVD in the US and UK. But even then problems continued. The American set has a welcome addition of an audio commentary by the series' creator Michael Sloan but the episodes suffer from several mysterious substitutions of incidental music. The picture quality on the UK set is notably "scratchy" and has been overly compressed for digitisation.
However with efforts under way to launch a movie version in 2009, there is clearly still an audience for this show... and deservedly so.
I like this show. Robert McCall was a company man with a guilty conscious who tried to find redemption through doing good works. Robert must have broken many cold war eggs to make many omletes. McCall's skills were now used to help the defenseless. This show like many other great 80 shows had a similar story lines. Where the Equalizer differed is with his method of intelligence. Like an intelligence officer Robert plotted, probed, planned, and visualized. Luck and the ability to out wit the opponent made for an interesting television show. Nice seeing this over the self centered tripe of todays TV. I never seen another show like this on TV. They should make this into a movie. I bet the old BBC show the Naturalizer was an influence for the shows producers. 8 out of 10 baby
I agree with most of the comments about The Equalizer as far as its good qualities are concerned. I thought Edward Woodward did a fine job of acting and his costars were very helpful also to each plot. I had taped a number of the episodes and am enjoying them even now. I, as I noted some persons have said, wish the series could be made into DVD's and thus kept on our television screens. I especially enjoyed the episode with Edward's wife, Michele, who is a well-known actress on her own. I hope Mr. Woodward has been able to see how much his many viewers enjoyed his performances. I am wondering too if he will ever return to the United States to perform for us on the stage? I wondered too why he did not sing in more shows? He did sing a bit of As Time Goes By in one episode where he was outside dancing with a costar on a snowy night.
I doubt that I could call this an objectively excellent show, but I loved
it. We all have worries and concerns in this world, and when The Equalizer
would come on, it was as if someone showed up to take care of it
The violence was gratuitous, the hero flawed, the premises and execution over the top. Yet the team, headed by an effective if somewhat hammy Edward Woodward who is in turn flanked by Mickey Kostmayer, and Jimmy and Sterno, and the regulars - Control, Pete O'Phelan, Lt. Smalls, Scott, etc. - grew on us. So many budding actors, now famous, guested on this show.
In a key conversation, McCall tells Control how he wished the rain pouring outside could clear away all the human scum and filth that terrorizes society. McCall took it upon himself to do so.
I often wished that longer-term plot elements would take hold. At one point, McCall says to Saul Rubinek's character, "Jason, you set me up. I don't know why, but believe me, I will find out" - but nothing came of this. Some of today's shows, Alias for example, show the potential for twists and turns in long-term plot elements. So, while there were serial elements (ex. McCall's family tribulations), the episodes were largely stand-alone. The Equalizer had huge potential for groundbreaking storylines, but failed to realize it. Still, it provided me with my weekly dose of valued escapism.
The consensus of the other reviewers is that this is an excellent
detective/mystery series; certainly I agree with that and probably
cannot add anything of substance to their comments. As to the program,
all I will say is Edward Woodword's fine, convincing acting, the
excellent plot development (in every episode, each of which usually
stands on its own), the choice of a great supporting cast and Stewart
Copeland's fine scores--what more could one want in a TV show. In fact,
The Equalizer was and probably still is too good for television.
My real purpose in originally writing this was to attempt to prod the owner of the copyright, Universal, to make all the episodes (and possibly some that might be in the can and not yet shown) available on DVD. From the plethora of very positive comments it is obvious that this is not only an artistic success but something that likely would be commercially feasible. I first wrote: "Should it not be made available on DVD, I guess I will have to content myself to try to find all the episodes on VHS and dub them onto DVD-R." Since then I have obtained a set from TVDVDPlanet.com of (it claims) all the episodes on 22 DVD-Rs in boxes with no manufacturer on the label. I have viewed several and they were crudely taped from TV(some even say A&E on them). Video quality is very poor. Apparently this is region free. It seems all are DVD-R not DVD and quality is awful. Packages are shipped from Canada.
Since writing the above I learned that Season One would be officially released by Universal in the States and it has been. This is a region 1 DVD. It is a 5 disc set with all 22 episodes from the first season. It can be ordered at Amazon.com and other sellers. Technical quality is very good. I did notice that one episode was in stereo though the packaging says mono. Definitely worthwhile and I hope they follow through on the rest.
Since writing the above I have noted that the domain TVDVDPlanet.com has been taken away from one Alan Knight of Key West Florida by Planet Entertainment, Inc. The complaint alleged that the website may be offering unauthorized and infringing product to the public. See http://www.tvdvdplanet.com/tvdvdplanet.pdf. Nothing was said about the "quality" (or lack of it) of the product.
Thomas J McKeon Indianapolis
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