A more unusual entry into my recollections of 80’s TV shows considering I was roughly the ages of five to nine years old when it was on.
Starring British actor Edward Woodard in the title role, The Equalizer was the show that kids were shooed off to bed for so that the adults could watch it in peace.
Woodward played Robert McCall, who worked for the somewhat ambiguously titled shadowy agency ‘The Company’ before deciding to go into business for himself. He does this via a newspaper advertisement, the caption for which can be read below:
Pretty shocking to think that a trained killer could openly offer his vigilante ‘equalizing’ services to the general public via a national newspaper but hey it was the 80’s and it was set in New York. Bear in mind you could smoke freely in bars and restaurants back then and the drink drive limit was pretty much at your own discretion. That plus it was a TV show.
McCall himself was pretty archetypal of the 80’s TV show. Just like the more youth orientated, pre-watershed shows of the time such as The A-Team, Streethawk and Knight Rider it was basically about a lone wolf (wolves in the case of The A-Team) who helped the little guy out against otherwise seemingly insurmountable forces. His backstory was somewhat sketchy and involved shadowy agencies but what was made clear was he was highly skilled with weaponry and general violence. He also seemed to rely on personal wealth from an unspecified source to fund his lifestyle and work. I mean the guy lived in a top-end apartment, wore expensive clothing with a particular liking for leather jackets and driving gloves as well as tailored suits and drove a top of the line Jaguar that was regularly updated to the latest model throughout the show’s run. Yet in spite of all of these almost unfeasibly high living costs, he never took a penny for his work. Another trait that seems to prevail amongst 80’s TV shows. That being that the main protagonists provided their services almost exclusively pro bono.
My memories about the specific story-line content of the show are hazy at best. It’s mostly been jogged by googling. I can remember that McCall got help from several ex ‘Company’ employees and also had a rather strained relationship with his son Scott who was played by Billy Zabka of ‘Karate Kid’ fame. He also deployed the use of several types of weapons and gadgetry which along with the casting of a British lead leaves little doubt that the producers were trying to tap into the James Bond fan market. Funny thing is the Bond franchise was struggling at that particular time.
The thing that set The Equalizer apart from its contemporaries was the violence of course. It wasn’t adult orientated for nothing. Whilst the bullets of The A-Team conveniently missed their targets and those who crossed Michael Knight usually just lost a fist fight and were then left for the authorities to deal with, Robert McCall hit his targets every time and sent most people that crossed him to the morgue. Pretty hard not to when you’re spraying around live ammo from an Uzi machine gun. McCall usually came up against members of organised crime syndicates, psychotic, hard-nosed killers and thugs you see and leaving them tied up for the police with a note explaining their various felonies just wouldn’t suffice as most usually had the political or criminal connections to get off scot-free if required. So death was the only way to truly ‘Equalize’. The opening title sequence though gave the somewhat inaccurate impression that McCall only dealt with muggers and sexual predators when in fact those were rarely if ever his actual targets. Not that they were not particularly prevalent in New York City at that time but it would have been a bit monotonous if the show had simply been about McCall hunting down the ‘rapist of the week’ or returning some old lady’s handbag. No, the antagonists tended to be slightly more high brow and ambitious than that despite what the title sequence suggested.
Talking about the opening title sequence, the most memorable thing about The Equalizer was actually it’s completely kick-ass opening title theme composed by Stewart Copeland formerly of ‘The Police’. It still sounds amazing to this day:
The show was remade a few years back via a film starring Denzel Washington. It bore almost no resemblance to the original, well other than the fact Washington played an ex-government agency operative who starts contracting out his services free of charge to the needy and unfortunate. But in terms of content and style, it was completely different and there was no reference to him being an inactive agent of a shadowy organisation. In fact, they didn’t reference the original show in any way at all. Makes you wonder why they even bothered using the title in the first place.
Edward Woodward passed away 8 years ago but I’ll always think of him anytime I pass someone at night standing at the end of an alleyway, wearing a three-quarter length jacket, leather driving gloves and standing in front of an 80’s model Jaguar car, with the driver door hanging open, the fog lights beaming and clear intent to ‘Equalize’ on their face.