Case Number 13133


Universal // 1985 // 1063 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 5th, 2008

The Charge

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you wait, different show!

Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer.

Opening Statement

Best known for his work in the films Breaker Morant and The Wicker Man, British-born stage, film, and TV actor Edward Woodward added another timelessly memorable role to his credit in 1985 with the debut of the CBS drama The Equalizer. A long time coming, The Equalizer finally steps out of the shadows and onto DVD, but was it worth the wait?

Facts of the Case

With a past largely shrouded in mystery, and a mysterious connection to his former employer simply known as "The Company," Robert McCall (Woodward) is an antihero in a trench coat, coming to the aid of those who find themselves with nowhere else to turn.

All 22 intense episodes of the show's first season are included on this five-disc set.

Disc One
* "The Equalizer"
* "China Rain"
* "The Defector"
* "The Lock Box"

Disc Two
* "Lady Cop"
* "The Confirmation Day"
* "The Children's Song"
* "The Distant Fire"
* "Mama's Boy"

Disc Three
* "Bump and Run"
* "Desperately"
* "Reign of Terror"
* "Back Home"
* "Out of the Past"

Disc Four
* "Dead Drop"
* "Wash Up"
* "Torn"
* "Unnatural Causes"

Disc Five
* "Breakpoint"
* "No Conscience"
* "Unpunished Crimes"
* "Pretenders"

The Evidence

I have a few memories of dramatic TV series from my childhood that are burned into my brain even today: The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and in some ways at the top of the heap, The Equalizer. My father and I enjoyed sitting down together to share 44 minutes of The Equalizer every week, and it likely gave an underachieving 15-year-old high school student and his dad some common ground where they could connect. To this day, when I mention The Equalizer, the memory brings a smile to both our faces.

What's the appeal of the show? I find that somewhat hard to put my finger on. McCall's mysterious background and unorthodox approach to solving crime keep the show interesting, but the very fact that the hero is flawed and seems to be atoning for his past sins adds a whole new level of character development and interest. This is a powerful man with connections and resources to be feared, but he is also a father with an estranged son who does what he must, but not without a sense of conscience and at times even regret.

Let's get something out of the way right now. The Equalizer is not your typical '80s action show like The A-Team or Knight Rider. This is a dramatic show that literally pulls no punches and often tackles some dark and disturbing situations. At the time the show aired, some critics argued that the content was too harsh, even for a network drama. What they failed to recognize was that the show always offered a balance. Although McCall acted with extreme prejudice, showing the bad guys no mercy, the show was always balanced by the restoration he brought to the lives of former victims.

Apparently, Woodward was so convincing in his role that during the filming of the show, he was approached on the street by strangers who had similar needs to those depicted by the victims in the show. A true English gentleman, in response to this need, he began carrying flyers with contact information for various social service organizations. And I was also surprised to discover that writer Michael Sloan, one of the show's creators, was a writer on some of my other favorites from the '70s and '80s, including The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and Battlestar Galactica.

The show had many strengths, from Edward Woodward's strong presence to the interesting parade of guest stars (Jerry Stiller, Melissa Joan Hart, Macaulay Culkin, Kevin Spacey, Vincent D'Onofrio, and many others over the show's four season, 88-episode run). One of the things that sticks out most in my mind about the show to this day is Stewart Copeland's high-adrenaline opening theme and score that set the stage beautifully each week for the drama to come. Sure, I may be biased toward Copeland's music, being a long-time fan of The Police, but I honestly can't imagine The Equalizer without that opening theme and the video montage that accompanied it.

For a 20-year-old TV show, The Equalizer: Season One really surprised me on DVD. My last memory of the show was seeing it in syndication on A&E when I recorded it on VHS tape. Although the full-screen picture is nowhere near as clear as what you'd see on a DVD release of a more recent TV production, there were no signs of damage of any kind that I could see. The image is a bit grainy, colors are muted, and the blacks aren't as deep as they could be, but this really is a solid visual presentation, given the age of the source material. Similarly, though the audio isn't immersive or very dynamic, it is clean, crisp, and free of any noise or distortion.

I'm sad to report the only extra features on this release are a pilot episode commentary with co-creator Michael Sloan and a bonus episode from season two titled "Beyond Control." Although it's not the most riveting commentary I've ever heard, Sloan shares a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes information including the challenge he faced in convincing Universal executives to hire Woodward in the title role. Surely a retrospective featurette with actors Edward Woodward, William Zabka (Scott McCall, Robert's estranged son), and Keith Szarabajka (McCall's partner, Mickey Kostmayer), and show creator Michael Sloan should have been relatively easy to put together. Episode commentaries with Woodward himself would also have really put the icing on the cake with this set.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I read recently that The Equalizer is currently airing on Universal HD in a newly created 1080i hi-def presentation. Let's just hope this version of the show is headed to Blu-Ray sooner than later!

Closing Statement

The Equalizer was one of a kind. Despite the numerous high-quality TV dramas that have come along since the show ended in 1989, we have yet to see a concept that is even remotely like it. The good news? Universal has done fans proud with this new DVD release of The Equalizer: Season One. A theatrical version of The Equalizer has been rumored since as far back as 2005 and it is still listed on the Internet Movie Database with a 2009 release date, although there have been no announcements of a lead actor, director, or writers. With Hollywood's dismal record for remakes of classic concepts, I'll stick to DVD releases of the tried and true original.

The Verdict

Sure he operates above the law, but The Equalizer is one aged avenger you'll want in your corner. Please Universal...could we have some more?

Review content copyright © 2008 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 75
Audio: 75
Extras: 70
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English

Running Time: 1063 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Creator Commentary
* Bonus Episode: "Beyond Control"

* IMDb: The Equalizer

* Wikipedia: The Equalizer