The new FX drama Lights Out premiered last night, and I have a review of the pilot episode after the jump.
Let me start off by admitting I have never seen a Rocky movie. I’m familiar with the underdog champion concept and, thanks to countless parodies and homages, many of the iconic scenes from the Sylvester Stallone series, but I’ve never gotten around to actually watching one of the movies. Boxing isn’t a sport I have any great affinity for, so my interest in the boxing genre isn’t too great, either.
That being said, I found the pilot of Lights Out to be a quite satisfying hour of television drama. From the opening shot of Holt McCallany’s Patrick “Lights” Leary bloodied, unconscious face, I was prepared for a gritty, visceral series focusing on the life of its star in the ring. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find a series that focused equally on Leary’s new life as a retired family man, and his constant tug-of-war between being Patrick/Dad and “The Champ.”
The opening sequence, set five years before the series’ current timeline, nicely captured the struggle Lights would be facing for the next five years, and, it seems, for the duration of this series. In that moment, after blacking out and getting his eyelid stitched up, his wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) gives him an ultimatum: “Either you stop or we stop.” Lights has to choose one life over the other, and he goes with his wife and family over his sport/career/source of income. During his interview on the anniversary of his last fight, when Lights answers that retiring and living with his health intact was the best decision he ever made, we believe him, but we also know he means it when he says he sometimes misses fighting. As the money from his glory days is drying up, he’ll eventually have to get back in the ring, but as much as he insists he’d rather not, it’s clear that putting the gloves back on will help fill a hole that has been empty for five years.
The opening scene also encapsulated what Lights Out the show will have to do as it goes on. Obviously, Lights is the central character and the show will follow him as he attempts a comeback, but it can’t lose the contrast between the two sides of Lights that make him a full character. We need to continue seeing Lights at the gym, giving tips to the young guys, and at home, making breakfast for his daughters and scaring away new boyfriends, for the show to work as it has been laid out in the pilot. The balance will undoubtedly shift back and forth from episode to episode, but seeing both sides (as we did in the great ice cream parlor sequence, as his talk with his daughter was intercut with his bar fight and arm-breaking negotiating skills) is crucial.
Holt McCallany was completely believable as a former heavyweight champ, and he nicely captured the conflicted Lights Leary, proving bad-ass and terrifying, yet soft and caring, based on what the script called for. His portrayal was backed up with solid performances by Pablo Schreiber as his brother Johnny and Stacy Keach as his father Robert, whom I hope gets more screen time as the show goes on. Theresa could use some fleshing out, beyond “concerned, but independent, wife,” but McCormack seemed to do a good job with what she was given.
Lights is clearly living off his former fame. When he causes his youngest daughter to be late for school, he apologizes to her teacher by bringing a signed pair of gloves. When a bingo player (he’s been working as an announcer to earn some cash) accuses him of announcing the wrong number, Lights offers to take a picture with him. When he says, “I’m the Champ,” he is greeted with the reply, “You were.” Everywhere he turns, he gets a slap in the face reminding him of his former glory and current washed-up state. Now that the opportunity has arisen for him to actually punch back, he’s going to take it.
While Lights is living off his former fame, Lights Out is living off FX’s current hot streak. I’ve been behind on the times, and have yet to watch The Shield, Sons of Anarchy or Justified. I watched Terriers, and loved it, but unfortunately that didn’t quite fit the FX brand and didn’t catch on with viewers. From what I can tell, though, Lights Out fits right into the FX wheelhouse of dark, gritty dramas, and I hope this one works. I’m not immediately in love with it, but it has strong potential and a solid cast, and I’ll certainly be tuning in for the time being.
Bits & Pieces
- It was nice to see Reg E. Cathy show up at the end as “Death Row” Reynolds’ promoter. With Clark Johnson as a producer, there’s a mini Wire reunion happening here.
- I hope Lights’ kids get a little deeper, too. Right now, the teenagers are especially clichéd.
- Nice use of the “bad economy” excuse by Lights at the dentist’s house.