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‘Equalizer’ reboot speaks to the same anger that has so roiled American politics in recent years | COMMENTARY

The series premiere of the CBS Original drama THE EQUALIZER, starring Academy Award nominee and multi-hyphenate Queen Latifah, will be broadcast immediately following SUPER BOWL LV on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/7:00-8:00 PM, PT; time is approximate after post-game coverage) on the CBS Television Network. THE EQUALIZER will move to its regular Sunday (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) time period on Feb. 14, 2021. Pictured (L-R): Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall and Chris Noth as William Bishop Photo: Barbara Nitke/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The series premiere of the CBS Original drama THE EQUALIZER, starring Academy Award nominee and multi-hyphenate Queen Latifah, will be broadcast immediately following SUPER BOWL LV on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/7:00-8:00 PM, PT; time is approximate after post-game coverage) on the CBS Television Network. THE EQUALIZER will move to its regular Sunday (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) time period on Feb. 14, 2021. Pictured (L-R): Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall and Chris Noth as William Bishop Photo: Barbara Nitke/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (Barbara Nitke/CBS)

I do not usually get excited about television network reboots of 35-year-old series. With networks, it is always about the money. And usually the only reason for a reboot is that the network owns or can buy rights to an old series for next to nothing and thinks it will make money by revisiting it. The bottom line, not anything having to do with culture or art matters.

That’s what I was thinking about “The Equalizer” remake with Queen Latifah, which will premiere Sunday night after the Super Bowl on CBS.

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But then, I watched the pilot with Latifah in the role of Robyn McCall, a woman with a military and CIA past who uses her skills to help those who feel they have nowhere else to turn

And then, I went back and watched the 2014 and 2018 feature films “The Equalizer ” and “The Equalizer 2,” both starring Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a man with a military and CIA past who uses his skills to help those who feel they have nowhere to turn.

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I loved Washington’s depiction of McCall living a monk-like existence in Boston in the first “Equalizer” movie, and I have to admit I reveled in the vengeance he wreaked on the people in the films who were cruelly exploiting or murdering others.

It wasn’t, however, until I started watching coverage this week on cable news of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick as he laid in state at the Capitol Rotunda that I started to realize how much the narrative at the core of “The Equalizer” still matters culturally. Sicknick was killed defending the Capitol against the mob that stormed it on Jan. 6.

As I looked at the devastation on the faces of the mother and father of the slain officer, I became angrier and angrier. It wasn’t just anger. It was sadness, too, at the way this 42-year-old man’s life was snuffed out and his parents’ world shattered by this mob that had been whipped into a frenzy by then-President Trump, his son, Donald Jr., and others.

After four decades in journalism, I am a pretty cynical guy. But I couldn’t get past the unfairness of Sicknick dying while someone like Trump’s 43-year-old son has not paid and will probably never pay any price for inciting the mob. Nor will any price likely be paid by those members of Congress who lent credibility to Trump’s big lie that he won the election with their challenges to the vote of the Electoral College making Joe Biden president.

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As I started to write this column, I came to understand that the anger I was feeling is the reason why they are still doing TV and film remakes of “The Equalizer” 35 years after the moderately successful series starring Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a former government agent taking on the cases of innocent people who find themselves in big trouble because of a flawed legal system that favors the rich and well connected. “The Equalizer” speaks to that anger and sense of injustice.

Anger about the rich getting richer and away with most of their crimes no matter how corrupt they are, while the poor get crushed has always been there in American life.

In the 1930s, poor and working class people demanded food and jobs as the economy and the capitalistic system teetered on the edge of collapse. The Tea Party grew out of the same anger some 80 years later.

To some extent, the producers of “The Equalizer” reboot seem to understand where the cultural power of their series comes from.

“Our re-imagining of this classic series takes pride in its timely message of a justice crusader working outside a broken system to find justice for people with nowhere else to turn,” Terri Edda Miller and Andrew W. Marlowe write in an email to critics. “Our aim is to take you on a high-octane thrill ride that provides a semblance of the justice we are all looking to see reflected in the real world.”

It is not only a desire for justice that “The Equalizer” taps into. The TV series and especially the feature films also present morally righteous lead characters during an era in which morality had become less and less a celebrated virtue in American life.

In “Equalizer 2,” Washington’s McCall confronts a former CIA partner who has lost his moral compass.

“We all have to pay for our sins,” McCall says at their moment of reckoning.

“There is no sin,” the man says. “There is no virtue. There is just the (expletive) people do,” he says.

Before the film ends, McCall makes him pay.

Latifah’s Robyn McCall provides a moral center as well in the new CBS series. In the pilot, a rich and corrupt tech titan tries to buy her off when she confronts him with his crimes.

“Listen,” he says, “we can work this out. What do you want? Money?”

“You people,” she says, “You think you can buy and sell the whole world. You think your life is more valuable than anybody else’s.”

“I can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. Everybody has a price,” he says.

“Not me,” she answers.

Latifah is not in a league with Washington as an actor. Not many are. Washington can hold your attention without saying a word. There are moments in both “Equalizer” films where he sits silently thinking and you feel as if you can see his mind working.

But with an Oscar nomination for her performance in “Chicago,” Latifah has more than enough on-screen presence to carry a one-hour series on network TV.

She also has a strong supporting cast that includes Chris Noth (”Law & Order” and “Sex and the City”) as a former CIA colleague now running a private security company, and Lorraine Toussaint (”Orange is the New Black” and “Your Honor”) as Viola “Aunt Vi” Marsette, who lives with McCall and has been a surrogate mom to McCall’s teenage daughter, Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes).

McCall’s household being all female is part of a larger gender shift from previous “Equalizer” productions. The others were male dominated and the men mainly helped or rescued women. Here we have not only a female lead helping and rescuing a young woman in the pilot, but also women networking and working together to deliver justice. And most of the women who solve crimes, help those in need and serve as mentors to other women are persons of color.

I hope the producers and writers will take the time to make McCall a more complex character in subsequent episodes. But I am satisfied with what I have seen in the pilot. I’ll take a moral character anywhere I can find her on television these days.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik

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