Review: The Equalizer By Queen Latifah
That waitress, who needs to prep for a scholarship interview the next day, witnesses a man get shot dead while running away from two very professional-looking killers. She escapes from them, but when she’s questioned by Det. Marcus Dante (Tory Kittles), CCTV shows that she was the actual shooter.
Meanwhile, Robyn McCall (Queen Latifah), wakes up from a flashback dream from her time in the Special Forces in Afghanistan. For the last number of years, she’s been the globetrotting head of a nonprofit foundation while being a single mother to now-14-year-old Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes); her Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint) also lives there to watch Delilah when Robyn is traveling. But she recently retired, content to stay home and deal with her teenage daughter’s burgeoning attitude.
But she gets a note from an old friend, William Bishop (Chris Noth), who runs private security but used to work with her in the CIA. Yep, Robyn used to be a spy, and the agency wants her back. When she refuses, Bishop offers her a job at his firm. But she doesn’t want to do either; the last operation she was on with the agency resulted in a lot of collateral damage, and she’s tired of treating people as numbers instead of actual real lives.
When she’s at the rendezvous with Bishop, she follows the waitress into a room inside the Wonder Wheel on Coney Island, where she’s looking to get a new identity, but when the guys who are doing that work grab her, Robyn saves the day by beating the snot out of five guys. She finds out from the waitress about her dilemma, and she employs the help of her sharpshooting Army buddy Melody Bayani (Liza Lapira) and her super hacker husband Harry Keshegian (Adam Goldberg) to help.
All roads lead back to an Elon Musk-esque tech bro, whom Robyn eventually corners, with the help of Melody, Harry and William. But the case spurs her on to help out people who have nowhere to turn when they’re in a jam, and she posts a message on what looks like the “dark web” saying “Got a problem? Odds against you? I can help.”
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? For one, the original version of The Equalizer, starring Edward Woodward, which ran from 1985 to 1989 on CBS. But it also has the feel of most other CBS procedurals, especially the recent reboot of MacGyver.
Our Take: Modernizing The Equalizer wasn’t a bad idea in the least; fans of the two Denzel Washington-starring Equalizer films can attest to that. And bringing Queen Latifah to play a single mom who has to deal with her teenage daughter along with protecting those who need it was also a good move; she brings a humanity to Robyn McCall that Woodward never did as Robert McCall. But as we were watching the pilot for this new Equalizer, we couldn’t help but wonder if the case-of-the-week procedural format that pretty much defines most CBS dramas isn’t doing the show a disservice.
Not that the show shouldn’t be in a case-of-the-week format; after all, how can Robyn be the Equalizer if she’s got no clients whose odds she can equalize? The problem, like most CBS procedurals, is that the cases tend to take a back seat to building up the ensemble’s chemistry together and their backstories. I didn’t go into many details about Robyn’s first case mainly because those details don’t matter; it was a mystery that was easily solved with characters that were more or less cardboard cutouts.
Most of what’s going to keep bringing people in is Latifah and the show’s stellar regular cast. She brings a depth and empathy to Robyn. It comes out when she’s talking to Bishop about wanting to help the people that in the past her operations just considered collateral damage; it’s also compelling when she drives Delilah up to a juvenile detention center and tells her, “the world is just looking for a reason to put a young black girl like you on the other side of that fence.”
Latifah’s performance, along with what we see from Noth, Lapira and Goldberg (and, we’d imagine, Toussaint, though she doesn’t have a lot to do in the pilot) can make The Equalizer one of CBS’s best shows. But showrunners Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller (Latifah is also an EP, as was the late Richard Lindheim, creator of the original series) will need to beef up the cases Robyn takes in order to make that aspect at least close to as compelling as Robyn and her crew are.
Parting Shot: Robyn types her call for people who have nowhere to turn to get in touch; you see it on the gigantic screen in Harry’s basement bunker.
Sleeper Star: We’ve been stanning for Liza Lapira ever since she was on Traffic Light a decade ago; we’re hoping that this is a chance for her to be on a long-running series. The tough but caring Melody seems to be a good fit for her.
Most Pilot-y Line: When the Musk-esque tech bro sends his former special ops thugs to capture Robyn, he gets a call and says flat out “Is she dead yet?” What, not even a “hello?” He does get surprised by the voice on the other end of the line, though.