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Though the commercials and halftime shows may feature high-profile women, the Super Bowl is about as traditionally masculine a TV event as you can find. Which makes this year’s choice of the show that follows the Super Bowl more interesting. Taking that cushy spot in 2021 is a new version of “The Equalizer,” starring Queen Latifah.
Since the original series premiered in the 1980s, the lead character has been a man from an intelligence background who uses his special skills to fight corrupt bigwigs and help those who have nowhere else to turn. Edward Woodward played Robert McCall in the TV series, and Denzel Washington revived the character in two “Equalizer” movies, in 2014 and 2018.
The new reboot shares elements in common with its TV predecessor, but this time around, Latifah plays Robyn McCall, who left a globe-trotting career in the CIA to work as an independent, justice-seeking operative in New York. Adding a wrinkle to her already demanding gig is the fact that Robyn is a divorced single mother, raising a teenage daughter, Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes), who thinks her mother used to run a do-gooding charitable organization.
The pilot episode, which is all that was available to preview, does what pilots do. It introduces the setup, as Robyn grapples with memories of her CIA days, tries to understand her daughter and defends another young woman, whose hard-fought plans for the future are threatened when she’s seemingly incriminated in a murder.
In typical CBS action-meets-procedural style, “The Equalizer” brings together a solid ensemble cast, who helpfully explain who everybody is, in the expositional manner of most TV pilots. Thus, we learn from Robyn’s old CIA colleague, William Bishop (Chris Noth), that the CIA wants her back, because she’s just so darned good. But, we learn, she’s fed up with powerful forces that don’t treat people like, well, people. And she’s not too impressed with Bishop’s private security enterprise, which she dismisses as “babysitting billionaires.”
More to her liking are her old pals, bar-owner and sharpshooter extraordinaire Melody Bayani (Liza Lapira), and her husband, Harry (Adam Goldberg), a brilliant hacker who faked his own death so he could continue his cyber-wizardry.
Also along for the ride are Robyn’s Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint) who lives with Robyn, and who must come in really handy when Robyn has to leave Delilah to go crack a case, and bust any heads that merit busting. Tory Kittles plays Detective Marcus Dante, who may be a cop, but who, we learn, values justice.
The cast is more than capable, and, though “The Equalizer” has adapted to filming under coronavirus safety measures, the show’s New York is, in the pilot, at least, a COVID-free fantasy, with no mention of the pandemic.
Based on the pilot, “The Equalizer” is definitely meat-and-potatoes TV. But Latifah’s presence gives it a little something extra. Her charismatic underplaying draws you in, and adds a sense of mystery even when the writing is clunkily obvious. While Robyn can fight, she also uses her brain to anticipate consequences, and neutralize bad guys.
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