U.S.A. | 1985-86
Created by Michael Sloan
Edward Woodward, Keith Szarabajka
Robert Lansing, Mark Margolis
22 Episodes + 1 Bonus Episode
|47 min. per episode (+/-)
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC | 5-disc set)
Universal Home Video
Music from the series
Series Title Theme
MP3 format - 1.0 MB
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    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
EDITOR'S NOTE The focus of this website is and remains motion pictures. Occasionally, however, we like to bring readers' attention to "cult" telefilms and TV shows which they may find interesting and worthwhile.
Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) decides to call it quits with the CIA, and begins working for the public, helping those who need him to "equalize" the scales of justice...
    On the surface, The Equalizer is pretty standard mid-'80s TV fare. Thriller shows of this nature have always had an audience, and in terms of its basic outline the show didn't promise to deliver anything particularly original or creative. The stroke of genius that set it above others of its ilk rests in the casting of British stage and screen veteran Edward Woodward in the lead role. With his stolid demeanor and atypical appearance, he was certainly a risky casting choice. Rumor has it that the executive at Universal were putting the pressure on series creator Michael Sloan to cast a familiar name like Robert Culp or Ben Gazarra in the role, and while they were both fine actors in their own right, its a certainty that their presence would have made it just another TV crime thriller. Woodward's film credits were sparse the cult hit The Wicker Man (1973) and the critically acclaimed Australian military drama Breaker Morant (1979) being his most substantial film roles and his name certainly didn't inspire a great deal of faith in Universal, but Sloan persisted and eventually got his way. Woodward may well have been an unlikely choice, but his intense performance and subtly sardonic flashes of humor made the character well and truly his own.
    Throughout four seasons, McCall would find himself immersed in a variety of situations. The show sometimes stumbled where it tried to get too involved in government level cloak and dagger intrigue, for it was in the gritty streets of New York that the show found its true identity. The notion of McCall as a sort of grim avenging angel for all the casualties of the red tape of bureaucracy struck a nerve with audiences, but the show was often more thoughtful than the typical Dirty Harry or Death Wish level of revenge fantasy. McCall is a fascinating character — one part jaded and bitter, one part hopeful and altruistic — and Woodward's precise diction and economical physicality lends him an air of mystery and menace that overcomes his apparent miscasting as a man of action. McCall relies more on his wits than his fists, anyway, and it is in this that Woodward is particularly successful. On a more human level, his attempts to reestablish a relationship with his estranged son (William Zabka) or his rage over the shady tactics of his former employers help to round out the character in a fully three-dimensional way.
    Season One includes a number of standout episodes. While it would be self-defeating to go into all 22 of them in detail, it will suffice to point out a couple of particularly memorable installments. "The Children's Song", which highlights McCall's relationship with his son, runs the risk of being a typically silly excuse to change location (this one is set in McCall's rural getaway cabin as opposed to the city) while still enabling the character to ply his trade, it works beautifully as an exercise in character and suspense. True, there is never any doubt that McCall will outwit his inexperienced would-be assassins, but the episode is well paced and intense throughout. "Mama's Boy" allows Woodward to go undercover as a singularly unlikely drug dealer, and it's quite a lot of fun. Even more delirious is "Reign of Terror," which pits McCall against a violent, vaguely futuristic street gang in the ghetto. Guest appearances from Fred Williamson (Take a Hard Ride) and Euro-Cult favorite Tomas Milian (Compañeros), in a nicely understated performance as one of McCall's former colleagues, are icing on the cake. "Pretenders" finishes the debut season on a solid note, with Tony Musante (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) excelling as a sleazeball whose connections with the Agency surprise even McCall. While the season has its occasional misstep, overall it's done with a refreshingly serious and adult approach. The presence of some first rate character actors (including a young Tony Shalhoub as an Arab terrorist!) adds to the series' appeal, but at the end of the day, it's very much Woodward's showcase.

Universal's long-overdue release of Season One of The Equalizer is most welcome. The fullframe image quality is very good. Colors are accurately rendered, detail is sharp and authoring defects are never evident. The show was shot on film, not video, and the cinematography is sometimes of a very fine standard this is very much the New York of yesteryear, and one can readily believe that a prospective menace lurks in every shadow. The stereo soundtrack is crisp and clean Stuart Copeland's excellent score is particularly well served here; once heard, Copeland's catchy signature theme is bound to be in your head for days. (NOTE: Fans retaining old videotape dubs of the original network broadcasts claim that Universal has replaced certain songs in a handful of episodes with generic stock music, as a means to avoid the re-negotiation of licensing fees. This indeed seems to be the case. Therefore, a point is being deducted from our DVD Rating of the set.)
    Extras include a commentary by Sloan on the pilot episode (there are a few too many dead patches, but he makes for an agreeable and enthusiastic commentator, rightfully proud of his coup in securing Woodward for the show) and a bonus episode from Season Two, "Beyond Control". Presumably, the future availability of the remaining three seasons is dependent on how well this set sells. Here's hoping it does very well indeed. 3/24/08