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'The Equalizer' Review: If They Live Long Enough, They All End Up on a CBS Procedural

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 8, 2021 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 8, 2021 |


What is the last really good network television show you can remember being greenlit? There are still some good shows on network television (Brookyn Nine-Nine, Superstore) and a few decent ones (The Resident New Amsterdamn, This Is Us), and a really good one that everyone watched on Netflix (Evil), but I am struggling to remember when the last great network television show was launched. To my recollection, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist may be the closest thing to decent that has premiered in the last two years (again, save for Evil); Stumptown was decent, too, although it was canned after a season.

In fact, when I saw the ad spot for NBC’s upcoming Debris over the weekend, I was mildly intrigued (I like Jonathan Tucker!), and then I remembered that if this was any good, Netflix, HBO, Amazon, or Apple would have already picked it up.

There’s still plenty of money to be made on broadcast network television, however, especially over on CBS, where they have clearly perfected the network procedural formula, and where all your once-favorite actors have gone to collect huge paychecks and fade from cultural relevancy. In no way do I begrudge them, either, because from what I understand about network procedurals is that they are hard work and require long hours, where actors must memorize 10 pages of a script on the same day they are regurgitating the 10 pages of script they memorized three days before.

All of which is to say: Good for Queen Latifah. If anyone deserves to cash out and coast on her charisma for a few years, it’s Latifah. We will miss her during her lucrative exile from pop-culture relevancy. That is because, though she’s only the 5th Black woman to lead her own broadcast network series (seriously? That is lunacy), there is nothing else in the least bit extraordinary about the The Equalizer. Even the pilot was as generic as they come.

Based on the 1980s series of the same name (to which there are a number of callbacks that none of us will understand), The Equalizer stars Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall, a former C.I.A. turned vigilante-for-justice. Someone in our comments section last night mentioned that The Equalizer basically ripped off The A-Team in the ’80s, and that is exactly what’s going on here, except that The Equalizer is not a fugitive, nor does she drive a bad-ass van. It’s a missed opportunity.

She does, however, solicit cases from those in need of her brand of off-the-books justice. She has a team, too. A veteran of the police procedural, Chris Noth plays a “quirky” ex-CIA director running his own private security company; Adam Goldberg, who has been in the CBS system for a few years already, plays the obligatory computer whiz; hardworking veteran actress Liza Lapira plays the Air Force sniper turned bar owner/best friend; and Lorraine Toussaint plays the gravitas; she is paid handsomely to offer the occasional bit of sage advice or tell someone to shut the fuck up. She’s going to be worth every penny.

It says something, however, about how far broadcast network television has fallen that a formulaic reboot of an ’80s crime drama got the post-Super Bowl slot. They didn’t use the opportunity to launch an offbeat new show or to expand the fanbase of a growing but beloved sitcom. They used it to continue the CBS brand. On the same night that ViacomCBS spent millions of dollars to convince us to invest in Paramount+, they trotted out more of the same. The actors may be different, but the scripts never change.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

Header Image Source: CBS