Are the odds stacked against you? Do you need help? You could call the Equalizer. But don’t be surprised if it takes a while for him to get back to you. He’s an awfully busy guy these days.
The Equalizer, as TV fans may remember, is Robert McCall—a former covert government operative who, while retired from active service, uses his unique skills to help the innocent and mete out justice upon those who most deserve it. Part James Bond, part Batman, part Charles Bronson from Death Wish, he was the main character of a show that had a short but successful run in the late 1980s. Today he’s returned in the form of a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington that opens September 26 and a new novel that has been adapted into an unabridged, 21-hour audiobook.
The original Equalizer was portrayed by the late British actor Edward Woodward, who was every bit as suave, debonair, and deadly as you would expect a master ex-spy to be. As a secret agent, though, McCall had a dark past—one that, while never explicitly detailed, haunted him every day. It kept him at arm’s length from his estranged son, Scott, and isolated him from the relationships that were most important to him.
In the show, McCall retires from active service, over the continuing objections of his former bosses at “the Company.” While living a quiet life in New York City he can’t keep himself from fighting the good fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Those in most desperate need of his help find him through a simple newspaper ad that reads, “Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equalizer.”
The Equalizer television series was a unique blend of spy film, cop drama, and vigilante thriller. For his portrayal of McCall, Woodard won a Golden Globe and was nominated for multiple Emmy awards. The show ran for only four seasons, though, hampered in no small part by the failing health of its charismatic lead actor. Woodward suffered a heart attack in the show’s third season, and in order to reduce his workload, actors Richard Jordan and Robert Mitchum were recruited as colleagues of McCall’s who helped out with some of his Equalizer tasks. Without a consistent lead character at the show’s helm, the series came to an end in 1989.
Over the years, fans of The Equalizer enjoyed the series through its release on DVD, through which they could revel in all of the show’s retro-80s goodness. This included the series’ hit theme song, a new-wavey, electronic tune composed by Stewart Copeland, drummer and co-founder of one of the most popular bands of the day, The Police.
In 2010, as the film industry was busy mining TV’s past for new movie projects, it was announced that The Equalizer would be getting the big-screen treatment, with Russell Crowe slated to play McCall. A year later, fans found out that Crowe’s fellow Oscar recipient Denzel Washington had taken over the part.
The new movie (directed by Antoine Fuqua, who helmed Washington’s Academy Award-winning turn in the 2001 cop drama Training Day) is set to release on September 26. While the film will now be set in Boston, the rest of its premise follows that of the television series. Washington plays McCall, a former special ops agent now trying to live in peace. That peace is shattered, however, when he encounters a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, and McCall decides that he can’t stand idly by while the girl is in peril.
McCall’s return, however, isn’t limited to the big screen. His story is also being re-invented by Michael Sloan, creator, producer, and writer of the original series, as well as a writer and producer of the new film. In Sloan’s new novel, The Equalizer, McCall battles to save the life of an innocent woman while facing off against an old enemy, a Chechen nightclub owner who now runs an elite assassination service. The novel also has been released as an unabridged audiobook, read by award-winning voice-over artist Jeff Gurner (who counts Star Wars: The Clone Series and Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon among his other projects).
With all his appearances in TV, DVDs, movies, books and audiobooks, Robert McCall is a pretty busy guy for an ex-spy trying to keep a low profile. And with a sequel to the new Equalizer movie already announced, it doesn’t sound like his schedule isn’t going to lighten up anytime soon. Still, if the odds are against you and you need help, give him a call—the good guys, even the ones with shadowy pasts, always find a way to win in the end.