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"The Equalizer", starring Ed Woodward (1985-1989) (1 Viewer)

The Drifter

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The Equalizer was one of the most underrated TV series of the '80's. As a kid, I caught a handful of episodes on network TV back in the day & was impressed by what I saw, but never got into it that much at that time.

A while back, I got re-interested in the series, and ended up watching all four seasons back-to-back. Wow....This show is incredible! I watch a lot of TV, and I would have to say that this is not only one of the top ten TV shows I've ever seen, but is definitely one of my top five BEST T.V. series of the '80's. The show is so good, it's hard to believe it was a network T.V. show.

The show focused on Robert McCall (UK actor Ed Woodward), who was a retired "agent" living in NYC. He would help those in need via a newspaper advertisement.

First, the theme music by Stewart Copeland is sublime; amazing use of synthesizer(s) - though the sound is very '80's, it's also very unusual & interesting as well. The soundtrack in the show itself was also excellent.....It helps that I was (and still am) a huge fan of the rock/pop group The Police.

Ed Woodward was incredible in this series; though some actors merely portray characters, Woodward WAS the Equalizer.

I liked how the show went back and forth between stories involving McCall helping those in need, to episodes involving his past coming back to haunt him, to episodes with (at the time) topical cold war themes.

Great supporting cast as well, including Mickey Kostmeyer, McCall's son Scott, Jimmy, Chad Redding, Control, Harley Gage, and others.

I was also very impressed with the show's themes of redemption/making up for past mistakes.

The show really captures the NYC of the '80's perfectly; watching the series is like going back in time, and it's nice that it was (or at least seemed to be) filmed on location in the city.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the copious amount of well-known guest stars on the show, including John Goodman, Stanley Tucci, E.G. Marshall, etc. Many of these became big later, but you also had appearances by Telly Savalas & Robert Mitchum, who were already big names by the mid-late 1980's.

Though the first two seasons were great, IMHO Seasons 3 & 4 were incredible. There were so many stand-out episodes I can't list them all, but some of my favorite include the following - note this is by no means a comprehensive list:

Breakpoint (Season 1): IMHO, this was the best episode in the first season. Impressive acting here by Tony Shalhoub, whom I almost didn't recognize as the actor who became famous much later playing the detective Adrian Monk (Monk is also one of my favorite shows...)

Memories of Manon, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 2): Excellent.

Beyond Control (Season 2)

Blood and Wine, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 3): Incredible opening episode, and IMHO definitely one of the top five episodes of the series. Telly Savalas was truly incredible in this, playing a completely different role from the past. The theme(s) of redemption were very pronounced here.

Mission: McCall Parts 1 & 2 (Season 3): I consider this to have the quality of a small film; great appearance by Robert Mitchum.

The Mystery of Manon, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 3)

Christmas Presence (Season 3): Amazing; very moving & poignant.

The Last Campaign (Season 4): Excellent opening episode, and really set the tone for this superior final season...

Endgame (Season 4): Very disturbing & well-done; kept you guessing until the end.

Splinters (Season 4)

Silent Fury (Season 4): Extremely impressive.

Too bad the show didn't last longer; however, maybe it's best it ended in '89. In late '89 the Berlin Wall had fallen, and I'm not sure the cold war themes that were so central to the show would have been as relevant from 1990-on. Plus, by having the show go from '85-'89, it was a purely '80's show. And, four seasons is a very respectable length of time for a TV drama to last; in fact, the show was of such good quality that I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did (it seems that some of the best TV shows get cancelled after 1-2 seasons...)

Here's the iconic opening theme. My understanding was that SC also composed some/most?! of the other great instrumental music in the episodes themselves:

 

Pathfiner

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An excellent show - here in the UK Forces TV channel have just begun a rerun of season one

- while Talking pictures channel are rerunning Ed Woodward's earlier sixties / seventies spy series 'Callan' too !

Robert Lansing was good making semi regular cameos as 'Control' and the backup regulars were all good

Richard Jordan stood in as main character Harley Gage for a number of episodes from 'Mission; McCall' onwards after Ed Woodward suffered a heart attack - he did some brief scenes for that inserted later when he was fit enough and for a few episodes like 'Inner View' Robert McCall took a back seat while Harley Gage took main lead until McCall was able to return properly - they featured together in a good 'phantom of the opera' type story 'The Rehearsal' where McCall, Gage and a theater cast and production team are held hostage in a locked theater by a madman who has booby trapped the doors with an explosive

all four seasons are out on DVD in the UK - are they out in the USA ?
 

Jeff Flugel

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Coincidentally, I just watched an early S1 episode of The Equalizer the other day - "The Defector." It was a blast (and featured an early performance from a surprisingly cute Melissa Leo).

I was a sporadic watcher of the series when it originally aired, but for whatever reason, eventually tuned out. As I slowly work my way through season one, I think I'm appreciating it a lot more now, several decades on. The premise is great, and Edward Woodward is awesome in the lead. Additionally, the opening credits for the show, accompanied by Stewart Copeland's haunting theme tune, is one for the record books.

I've only caught a few episodes of Woodward's earlier series, Callan, but from what I've seen, it's also well worth seeking out, a less-flashy, grittier spy show.
 
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Neil Brock

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One of the great series of the 1980s. I have all of the DVD sets but I also transferred over my VHS SP tapes from off CBS with all of the original music.
 

The Drifter

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One of the great series of the 1980s. I have all of the DVD sets but I also transferred over my VHS SP tapes from off CBS with all of the original music.

Between watching The Equalizer series on DVD & also streaming the show, I've seen the whole series. However - since I saw so little of the show when it was originally on in the '80's, I didn't recognize music replacements from the original show vs. the DVD's. My understanding is that the purely instrumental (non-vocal) music like the theme song & the other synth-like music in the series itself - was unchanged from the original airings to the DVD's.

However, some of the rock/pop music may have been changed; but, to be honest, I don't remember this type of music being an extremely significant part of the series; there was at least one episode which focused on a rock star, but don't remember the music much - which was forgettable. I.e., this series is nothing like Miami Vice - in which pop/rock music was a critical element in the show. Conversely, from what I can remember the instrumentals were the most important & relevant music in The Equalizer.

Coincidentally, I just watched an early S1 episode of The Equalizer the other day - "The Defector." It was a blast (and featured an early performance from a surprisingly cute Melissa Leo).

I first watched The Defector long after seeing the iconic crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999), which starred Leo as a detective for most of the series. And, Leo was almost unrecognizable here as a dancer whose father wanted to defect to the US. Great episode!

Also wanted to mention how important the cold war aspect/time period was to the series. As a teen growing up in the '80's, I very clearly remember the concern re: the threat/perceived threat of the Soviet Union, etc. To those others who either grew up during that era (or who were already adults at the time), these themes probably bring back memories of this time period as well.
 
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Pathfiner

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in some ways both of Ed Woodward's characters David Callan and Robert McCall are similar

- each are top at their spy jobs and each hate what it forces them to be

the very beginning of Callan in the sixties sees him attempting to resign just as McCall later does and both are haunted by their pasts

Callan is forced back into the murky world of spies and national security while McCall does at least manage to escape from his old job to an extent becoming the 'Equaliser'

there is a final 80's era Callan story 'Callan; Wet Job' out on DVD where Ed Woodward reprises his older character - looking very much as he does as McCall complete with greyer hair and specs - and it's a good finale

both series are out on DVD (Callan has some early sixties b/w episodes missing sadly but all seventies colour episodes survive)

Callan was created by James Mitchell with contributions from both Terence Feely and George Markstein who worked on 'The Prisoner'
 

Pathfiner

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Some background info on Callan for any younger or American viewers new to it

The show began as an episode of the acclaimed ITV series' Armchair Theater' in the UK titled; 'Callan - A Magnum For Schneider'

David Callan is a ex-British Army soldier who served in Malaya - a complete professional who works on 'auto pilot' but who underneath it all is very uneasy about his job but is a superb hitman / agent working for the mysterious 'section' of British Intelligence who answer to virtually no one and who are used for the most essential 'dirty' jobs like executions, destroying characters etc where it is deemed required for the interests of the west

Callan's chief is Hunter (codename 'Charlie') - played over the show by various different actors as differing holders of that position - Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, William Squire are three Hunters

Toby Meres - initially played by Peter Bowles (the evil Balor in that Space; 1999 episode 'End of Eternity') in the pilot but chiefly played by Anthony Valentine (of 'Raffles' and Major Mohn in BBC / Universal's 'Colditz') who plays Meres in both b/w sixties and later in the latter seventies colour episodes

Lonely - Russell Hunter plays the nearest thing to a friend Callan has, a light fingered London crook but with a sympathetic character - one of life's losers he's loyal to helping Callan

James Cross - Patrick Mower (also of ITVs 'Special Branch' series by Euston films) who is a younger trendier version of Meres and is introduced from the seventies color episodes when Anthony Valentine was initially unavaliable doing 'Colditz' (Meres is then said to be on detached duty with the C.I.A. over in the USA !)

- Cross features in all of color season three and the first five episodes of the final fourth season when he is killed off in the episode 'If He Can So Could I' because Patrick Mower then left the show to join the cast of 'Special Branch'


the b/w sixties era ended on a shock cliffhanger...when a brainwashed by the KGB Callan returns to kill his boss Hunter believing he is a double agent - Meres then guns Callan down and when cradling him asking why - Callan tells Meres what he believes...only for Meres to advise the VIP he thought Hunter would kill had returned home days before unharmed....Callan realises he's been conned as blood dribbles from his mouth !

this stunned UK viewers and it was not made clear if Callan died or not at the time..

he does survive after five months in hospital and returns in the early seventies in colour - but is he the same useful killer agent ?

and if he can't kill what use is he...?

the final color fourth season ended with a trilogy of episodes under the title; 'The Richmond File' where a top Soviet agent 'Richmond' (played by guest star T.P. McKenna who earlier first appears in the episode; 'That'll Be The Day') apparently defects but the section has doubts as to the validity of his defection....

A color film version of the original pilot retitled; 'This is Callan' also exists, it was out on VHS tape not sure if it's on DVD or not

in that Ed Woodward and Russell Hunter reprise their TV roles while Eric Porter plays Hunter and a younger Peter Egan (best remembered as the maddeningly perfect and charming Paul Ryman in UK sitcom 'Ever Decreasing Circles') plays a blonde Toby Meres

some top UK and a few American actors guest in the UK series of Callan which has a great guitar led slowish atmospheric theme tune (that even turns up on one episode of 'Columbo' !)

the 80's era one off special 'Callan; Wet Job' is out on DVD and co stars George Sewell (of UFO, Special Branch etc) and features the 'Equaliser' looking middle aged Ed Woodward as a mature grey haired Callan in specs...who thinks he has long retired from the service

then one day 'Charlie' phones him...

while if we think that murky spy world doesn't really exist well umbrella murders on London bridge , plutonium poisoning in Sushi bars and nerve agent attacks at Airports and in peaceful rural Salisbury tell us it very much DOES....
 
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