Queen Latifah in The Equalizer. (Photo credit: CBS)
Created by: Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller
Starring: Queen Latifah, Tory Kittles, Adam Goldberg, Liza Lapira, Laya DeLeon Hayes, Lorraine Toussaint, Chris Noth
Synopsis (IMDB): An enigmatic figure who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn.
You should know going into this review that I love Queen Latifah. She’s one of my favorite actresses and I will watch her in almost anything. Her talent is so great that she can save even the worst plot or the worst actor. She’s fantastic.
I also love that television extraordinaire and Black Hollywood legend Debra Martin Chase is one of the executive producers of The Equalizer, making her just the fourth Black woman to helm a network drama, according to USA Today. Also cool: Martin Chase revealed that this version of The Equalizer was made especially with Latifah in mind, as reported by the Washington Post.
With that said, I feel like the pilot sets the world of this Equalizer up, but the story doesn’t soar out of the gate. Indeed, TV lovers will know what I mean when I say The Equalizer is very CBS in how it lays out its protagonist, the focus on acceptable violence from its action hero, a crackerjack, lovable, quirky team, and the comfort of knowing the hero will win the day no matter what.
If you look at the show from that point of view, the point of view that this series will be exactly what you expect it will be, then it’s perfectly fine, serviceable television. Frankly, I think that’s all anyone watching this series wants–just Latifah kicking butt and taking names while looking cool.
The series does also transmit some pertinent commentary about Blackness in America, with Latifah’s character Robyn telling her daughter Delilah (Hayes) that she shouldn’t fall on the wrong side of the tracks like Robyn once did, because America is only looking for a reason to put another Black girl in jail. There’s also one line of inferred commentary about America’s deportation policy under Trump, since the girl who Robyn helps is dealing with her mother’s deportation.
With that said, I still feel like something is missing from the series. We’ve seen Latifah be scary and intimidating on screen. Her role as Cleo in the heist classic Set It Off is one of her greatest moments in film, hands down. She was believable as a woman pushed to the edge enough to rob a bank with her friends and try to get over on a society that profits from keeping Black people at the bottom.
Even when she’s not playing a character with guns ablaze, she has shown audiences she can command the screen with anger, such as her epic “angry mom” monologue in Joyful Noise. It’s a film that’s not the greatest by a long shot, but it’s because of Latifah and Dolly Parton that you stick around and watch it. No scene in the film comes close to Queen Latifah yelling at her daughter, played by Keke Palmer, about why she should respect her.
I expected to believe Latifah wholeheartedly as a former CIA agent-turned-vigilante fighting for the little guy. With her acting resume, it should be easy. But instead, I felt like Latifah was holding back or couldn’t quite find her footing yet with the character. Granted, this is the pilot, and sometimes it does take a while for the show and its actors to settle into their characters. The show hasn’t found its voice yet, and I get it. But I was surprised that Latifah wasn’t holding my attention as much as I thought she would. I couldn’t believe her as a former CIA agent with a kill count, despite the fact that she’s convincingly portrayed someone as tough as Cleo.
Everyone else seems to be in the process of finding their footing as well, because Robyn’s main crew were a little all over the place. Toussaint hit the expected tone for Robyn’s concerned, loving aunt with her character Viola. Hayes is clearly a great young actress, but her character Delilah is the stereotypical bratty teenager, and the character is a chore to watch. Lapira and Goldberg as Robyn’s friends, former CIA agents and married couple Melody and Harry, are okay, but mostly just animate tools for Robyn to use to get the job done. Noth, like Latifah, is always charismatic and electric on screen, but even his character, former CIA agent-turned-private security firm owner William Bishop, is a little paint-by-numbers.
Of course, I’m sure some of the character development for the former CIA folks is being saved for future episodes. But it’s interesting that despite Latifah being the most fleshed-out character in the series thus far, the character I actually believed the most is Kittles’ Det. Marcus Dante. Maybe Kittles had an easier in-road to getting into character than the rest of the cast. But it’s weird when the character that we might expect to be the character that’s at the lowest of importance is the one who seems to know exactly who he is as a person. Meanwhile, we’re left with questions such as why Harry has a whole hacking den under his wife’s bar?
My complaints don’t mean that I don’t like the show. As I said before, I love watching Latifah in almost anything, so I’ll at least stick around for a couple more episodes. But I’m hoping the series starts gelling together because I want Latifah to stick around on television. I’m still heated her daytime talk show was canceled.