The Equalizer‘s mix of both espionage and private investigator elements married to a thumping theme tune and a dark representation of New York’s underbelly made for one of the most memorable intros of the many crime dramas that saturated our TV screens in the 1980s. With a movie remake starring Denzel Washington slated for later this year, now is a good time to revisit the original.
The Equalizer (88 episodes, 1985-89).
Former secret agent Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) sets himself up as a New York private detective/trouble-shooter, dispensing sometimes rough justice upon criminals in defence of the helpless and powerless.
The Equalizer‘s theme tune was created by Stewart Copeland of The Police, both of whose parents worked in the intelligence community. It centres on a fast and heavy percussion beat – reminiscent of the kind of rapid heartbeat one might experience in situations of extreme danger – which underpins a simple but eerie synthesizer melody.
A quick pan across a portion of the New York skyline at night (the illuminated art deco form of the Chrysler Building is clearly visible) segues into a sequence of people-in-danger scenes accompanied by alarming sounds such as screeching tyres and a crying baby: an aerial shot of a man running from an unseen danger, a man moving in on a lone woman in an elevator, a startled man in a phone box, a woman stranded on a deserted subway platform as a man appears menacingly in front of her.
We then see a brief silhouette of McCall brandishing his trademark Walther PPK/S handgun, followed by a tracking shot underneath the title card which slowly pans around his shadowy figure, stood implacably in front of his Jaguar XJS, before finally illuminating his face.
The combination of music and visuals in this intro is hugely evocative, bringing to life the seedy underbelly which exists after dark in many large cities. From the opening beats, there is no mistaking this show’s take on New York for the ‘bright lights, big city’ of Friends or Ugly Betty. This is an environment every bit as dangerous as the world of espionage McCall left behind him.