Pop Rocks: Denzel Washington Brings Back Television's The Equalizer

Denzel Washington (left) and Edward Woodward (right) as two versions of The Equalizer.
Denzel Washington (left) and Edward Woodward (right) as two versions of The Equalizer.

As someone who grew up watching a lot of television, I have a fairly decent list of underrated and under-appreciated shows that didn't last. But, it isn't just shows of my youth that make the list. More recent series on my list include Chuck, Reaper, Leverage and even Friday Night Lights, which had to claw out five seasons before NBC pulled the plug for good.

When I read about the trailer for the new Denzel Washington film The Equalizer, I immediately wondered if it was a remake of the '80s CBS series of the same name and, of course, that was exactly what I discovered.

Of course, this new version is sure to be different. Instead of a white, gray-haired former MI6 agent who actually takes out an ad in the paper to assist down and out New Yorkers with problems, Washington's version of Robert McCall (same name as the show) is a former military specialist who faked his own death to lead a peaceful life in Boston. He is coaxed out of "retirement" when he witnesses the brutal beating of a young prostitute by the Russian mob. From there, as you might imagine (and considering this Washington teaming up with Antoine Fuqua who also directed him in Training Day), the ass kicking commences.

But, for those unfamiliar with the TV show, it might be worth noting a few of its characteristics and why it will probably translate well to a film of this nature.

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First, the show was quite stylized. Set in New York and filmed in a Matrix-like greenish-blue tint, it always looked like it was cold and damp and felt like a cross between Dirty Harry and an old noir detective film. Edward Woodward, the show's star, played his version of McCall with taught compassion and a good sized portion of silent brutality, a role well suited to Washington.

In some ways, Woodward's portrayal felt a bit like Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State, where he starred alongside Will Smith as a former NSA agent gone off the grid -- director Tony Scott's homage to and imagined sequel for the wonderful '70s Hackman film The Conversation. And in some ways Washington is Hollywood's newest version of Hackman, a clever badass with a conscience.

Second, the TV series was a gadget nerd's wet dream. The best recent comparison I can make is to Burn Notice where Michael Weston always seemed to have a creative new way to neutralize the bad guys. Stylistically, Weston and McCall were as different as their locales (sunny Miami versus dreary NYC), but their methods equally effective. Most importantly, at least for interested viewers, it always involved some elaborate plan pulled off with cold, calculated precision.  

Certainly, the two versions of the McCall character will share at least one thing in common besides their boy scout need to save the day. McCall is living with a haunted past that was so devastating, he chose a life as far away from violence as possible. Only the suffering of an innocent is enough to draw him back in. That is evidenced in the trailer and should serve the film well.

The differences are likely to be rather substantial as well, however. With a TV series, there will always be long-running story arcs to satisfy. For the original Equalizer, that arc centered around McCall's estranged son, Scott, played by William Zabka of Karate Kid fame. It doesn't appear from the trailer the new version includes family ties, which makes sense considering he faked his death to get the life he wanted.

There is also the gimmick of the stop watch. In the trailer, Washington estimates how long it will take to dispatch his enemies before starting the timer on his watch, which gives Denzel's version of the character a slightly more self-serving edge. Television McCall seemed almost annoyed at having to be involved and would prefer to just scare someone, and he never gloated.

Still, the overall vibe feels markedly similar and I'm personally interested to see how the film lives up to the original. That includes the music. Both the theme song and the score for the TV show were composed by Police drummer Stewart Copeland. It was a combination of his burgeoning interest in electronic music mixed with his unique rhythmic style and it fit the show's vibe perfectly.

Whatever liberties the film takes, this is one remake I won't mind watching. Whatever happens, I still have the original on Netflix.


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