Mindless Action Mondays: The Equalizer (1985)

MindlessActionMondaysBy Drew Parton

Next week, I’ll be headed to the cinema to check out the Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua reunion The Equilizer. But I thought I’d do a short review of the 1985 TV show source material that will eventually allow me to compare it to the upcoming movie.


Universal Pictures

I’ve described the TV series to friends as “Burn Notice, if Michael Westen was a cold-blooded bastard” or “Taken, if Liam Neeson was a stuffy English gentleman and cared about more than just his family.” Edward Woodward (better known as the head of the NWA in Hot Fuzz) plays Robert McCall, a retired spy who decides to atone for his past by using his specialized skillset to help everyday people.

Relativity Media

Relativity Media

And finally remove that accursed living statue…

Last week, I talked about another movie concerning a British spy- The November Man. Let’s compare the two and see why The November Man is a waste of potential, while The Equalizer is a hidden cult gem that more people should be aware of.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Now, much like Pierce Brosnan and actual spies, Robert McCall is a borderline psychopath or, at best, a terrible person. Unlike Burn Notice‘s Michael Westen, who usually tries to use peaceful or at least non-lethal methods to solve people’s problems. McCall’s usual method is to either psychologically torture/break or straight-up shoot the bad guys.

Unlike Brosnan’s character in The November Man, we as an audience don’t hate McCall. He is cold and professional, but he’s clearly conflicted and bothered by his past. He doesn’t do what he does because he likes killing people (something I couldn’t honestly say about The November Man), it’s clear that this is all he knows how to do. He has been so far removed from the human condition that he is never NOT a spy. It’s sad but also a little heartwarming to see him desperately try to grasp at any part left of his humanity. It’s done astonishingly well- and unlike a lot of attempts in other works, it’s remarkably subtle. There’s no scenes of him crying or breaking down, no talks with a therapist- it’s not overtly shown, but implied in all of his conversations. He has no actual friends throughout the whole series. His wife left him, his son sees him once a year. The only people he really interacts with are his clients and his professional allies.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Perhaps the best or worst thing about The Equalizer is it’s temporal setting. Recently, my girlfriend and I started watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (the first time for her). And it was upon my second viewing of the series that I realized it is a perfect stereotypical snapshot of the 1990’s. The Equalizer is a similar stereotypical snapshot of the 1980’s. But unlike Buffy, which is a comedy/action series, The Equalizer is an intense drama. And whenever shit goes down, or there’s a dramatic moment, or McCall delivers a delightfully British one-liner, THE MOST 80’S SOUNDTRACK EVER BLARES ITS SYNTHESIZER.

Universal Pictures

I’m not quite sure how people felt about it when it originally premiered in the 80’s, but when I started watching the series, it would send me into the occasional giggle fit. Honestly, that’s about the only bad thing I can say about the series- other than that (which, really isn’t a terribly bad thing), it’s absolutely phenomenal. If you like spy shows/movies- or really just quality programming. You should definitely check out The Equalizer TV series if you can find it.

In the meantime, though, join me next week when I’ll review the modern day adaptation starring Denzel Washington.

Be sure to check out my other column Trope-ic Thunder, where I discuss science tropes in the media.

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4 thoughts on “Mindless Action Mondays: The Equalizer (1985)

  1. The other characteristic of the 80’s show is that that the ‘hero’ was a virtual superhero – they never miss a shot and almost never take a punch – even when they look like they couldn’t run a mile. In the 35 minutes of airtime (minus ads and credits) they appear as modern day demigods. The funniest version of this was Don Johnson’s Nash Bridges where he might as well be superman in half the shows http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115285/ compared to the rest of the cops.

    I’ve always thought the more ‘intelligent’ successor to this type of show was ‘Person of Interest’. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1839578. There is the same type of 80’s silent-braggadocio by Jim Caviezel in his stoney stoic way. The major difference is that we like more realism in the 21st century with the hero’s getting dusted up along the way in faux-realism. Hope you enjoy the film.

      • you might like that show then, not that Jim Caviezel is not intelligent – another best ex-CIA ever – his ‘boss’ and partner is Finch a Billionaire who creates the most sophisticated software on the planet. It’s sometimes like a strange and more serious reflection on Higgins and Magnum P.I. for a different time where we’re under threat all the time from sinister forces rather than idly and almost casually protecting Eden…

  2. In the UK, Edward Woodward was already well known for playing a very similar character called Callan. Like The Equalizer it is very evocative of its time and place (70’s UK). There was speculation that McCall was some sort of later incarnation of Callan; both were retired from secret agencies, both were very British, and both had a strong moral compass. I’d recommend checking it out (there are four series and two films).

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