“The Equalizer” (shown here) is back, for its third incarnation.
The first was a 1985 CBS series that ran for four seasons; the second had a pair of movies. Now – boosted by a Super Bowl lead-in Feb. 7 – the idea is back on CBS.
In each version, the hero helps people who can’t turn to authorities. That may be why it’s eternal.
“The notion of the outsider who comes in and helps the little guy has been around for a long time,” said Andrew Marlowe, one of the showrunners.
The heroes have been Robin Hood or Zorro; they’ve been free-lance knights and countless cowboys, from the Lone Ranger to Paladin. They’re skilled, savvy … and male – until now.
“To have a Black woman be the face of justice, we think, is really, really interesting,” Marlowe said.
That’s the fictional Robyn McCall. She’s played by Queen Latifah, who says her dad (a cop) prepared her for this sort of role, long ago.
“My father taught us how to fight at a young age,” she said. He “taught us all these moves and then told us never to use them, unless you were defending your mother, your brother, (or) you were sticking up for someone who was being bullied.”
That’s what her character does here, said Terri Miller, also a showrunner: We’re in an era when people might feel bullied by life. “There isn’t anyone in the world who, at some point, didn’t wish they had a champion like Robyn McCall.”
Latifah, 50, seems to fit the role easily, starting with her size and athleticism.
Growing up in New Jersey (with the less-regal name Dana Owens), she played football “until my brother tackled me on the concrete” and then basketball. At 5-foot-10 and sturdily built, she was a power forward in high school. “I wasn’t the star of the team, so I don’t think (the coach) was looking for too many points out of me. But if we needed to pick up the defense, (he) put me in the game.”
She was also a self-starter who broke into the male-dominated hip hop world as a teen-ager.
“From the start, Latifah was a phenomenon,” Laura Jamison wrote in “The Vibe History of Hip Hop” (Random House, 1999). “Her natural charisma, warmth and sense of dignity appealed to … any crowd. She was a born entertainer.”
She moved on to acting, at first in light shows, including the five-season run of “Living Single.” Lately, she’s had dead-serious roles, taken from real life (Bessie Smith, Hattie McDaniel) or just fictional (in “Star,” a Fox series).
Now she plays Robyn, who learned lots of skills (and met some talented friends) in the CIA. “She’s done working for the people who make the high decisions,” Latifah said. “She’s done with the greed; she’s done with the uber-powerful.”
In the spirit of past heroes, she keeps her identity secret from many people, including her teen daughter. As Debra Martin Chase, another of the producers, put it: “She represents all women who are striking a balance between career and family.” Except that sometimes she also strikes bad guys and saves lives.