THE EQUALIZER (1985-1989)

Edward Woodward is Robert McCall -"The Equalizer"

The Equalizer was a television program that ran on CBS from 1985-1989.  It starred noted British actor, Edward Woodward, as Robert McCall, a veteran operative of a mysterious U.S. Government agency simply called “The Company,” that was a thinly disguised version of the CIA.  McCall, a man in is 50s, had lived a dangerous life that required moral compromise and personal sacrifice in the name of ideology and democracy.  However, after a botched operation leaves a suspect dead, McCall reached his tipping point, and abruptly resigned from The Company. In The Company, most resignations don’t involve an exit interview with Human Resources and a gold watch.  Most resignations are promptly handled with an assassin’s bullet in the back of the head, especially a valued asset like Robert McCall.  McCall is the type of man who not only knows where the bodies are buried, but he dug the hole and kept the paperwork with the signatures of everyone who signed off on it.  It is exactly this sort of knowledge, and his relationship with Control (Robert Lansing), the bow-tied head of The Company that spares McCall’s life.

In partial atonement for a lifetime of violence, Robert McCall decided to use his skills, knowledge, connections, and when necessary, violence, to help innocent people in need as a pro-bono trouble shooter.  He advertised his services with a simple ad in the “Classified” section of the the newspaper that read:

GOT A PROBLEM?

ODDS AGAINST YOU?

CALL THE EQUALIZER

212-555-4200

That’s the set-up for the show, and it absolutely seized my imagination when I was twelve years old.  A few months back, I purchased The Equalizer: Season One on DVD, but it wasn’t until last weekend, just days before Edward Woodward passed away, that I sat down to enjoy the box set.  I am glad to say that my fond memories of the program are not just misplaced nostalgia on my part.  The show still holds up, and surpasses my recollections in many ways.

So what made The Equalizer so damn cool?

  • A terrific opening that brilliantly captured the theme of the series: the fear, helplessness, and paranoia of becoming a victim of violent crime, and our desire for someone–anyone–to do something to help.  The Equalizer was filmed on location on the streets of New York City, and was emblematic of the violent crime wave that was blanketing the nation in the 1980s.  The Equalizer captured a New York City in a moment in time where porno theaters and prostitutes still occupied Times Square where Disney and MTV now stand. The Equalizer’s New York was a bleak, cold, lonely, desperate place that needed a hero.
  • A score and theme by Stewart Copeland of The Police.
  • Robert McCall drove a Jaguar, and as a result, I’ve wanted one ever since
  • He was prepared for every contingency.  From time to time, Robert McCall would have to remove his clients from their current circumstances entirely.  On those occasions, he would take them, often in the dead of night with just the clothes on their back, to an otherwise empty, dilapidated tenement building.  They would climb a flight of trash-strewn stairs, and McCall would punch in a code and throw back the bolt of a heavy, steel door to reveal a spacious, elegantly decorated apartment.  It was  a safehouse that was fully stocked with food,  beverages, and an assortment of clothing in all sizes.
  • I’ve always preferred my heroes a little “lived in.”  I know that the idea of the young hero’s journey is a successful staple of genre fiction, but I tend to favor the characters who seem to have lived a lifetime of adventure long before the audience first meets them.  You can keep your Luke Skywalker.  I’ll take Han Solo. The Equalizer was one of those “lived in” heroes.
  • The writers respected the viewer’s intelligence.  At the time, Edward Woodward was, quite honestly, a paunchy, middle-aged man on the north side of 50, yet through the brilliance of his performance, and the writer’s recognition of his age and physical limitations, together they crafted one of television’s most convincing, and enduring, badasses.  McCall was a crack shot with his Walther PPK and a rifle, but he rarely engaged in foot races or protracted fights.  He played mental chess matches with his targets.  He confounded them, intimidated them into compliance, and broke their will with head games.  When that wasn’t enough, he would defeat them with subterfuge, ambush attacks, or a precise, surgical application of violence when the time came.  For the heavy lifting, he would call in an assortment of operatives, which brings us to the next bullet point:

Mickey Kostmayer

  • Mickey Kostmayer.  Mickey was an unassuming, ordinary looking guy whom no one else in the intelligence community wanted to deal with, because of his reputation as being one of the most dangerous individuals on the face of the planet…and quite possibly insane.  Keith Szarabajka cleverly underplayed Kostmayer’s “loose cannon” persona, and instead portrayed Mickey as a loyal assistant to McCall, who was preternaturally attuned to the older agent’s needs in the field.  Kostmayer was also ruthlessly efficient and a master at improvising his way through situations.  The only thing that betrayed Kostmayer’s instability was a faint, manic light behind his eyes and a slight awkwardness with women.

Finally, if you check the “WORLD OF HURT - WHAT IT IS” tab in the Menu bar of the site, you’ll see that the first sentence I use to describe WORLD OF HURT is the elevator pitch, “WORLD OF HURT is Super Fly meets The Equalizer.”  What I didn’t realize, or perhaps had forgotten, was that in “The Pretenders,” The Equalizer’s Season One finale, Ron “Super Fly” O’Neal does indeed meet The Equalizer.  O’Neal played Det. Isadore, the latest of Robert McCall’s police contacts.  Isadore was assisting McCall on a case involving an aspiring jounalist whose curiosity about her mysterious neighbor uncovers an assasination plot.  I can’t say that upon viewing the on-screen team-up of these two screen heroes that Pastor spontaneously stepped out of the screen like Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose Of Cairo, but it was a pretty badass moment for me, nonetheless.

- JEP


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