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Lights Out 1.01 Review – Pilot


Grade: B+

FX. It’s a channel of bad-asses. The Shield? Bad-ass. Sons of Anarchy? Bad-ass. Justified? Bad-ass. Glenn Close? Potentially (It could be why Damages is now on DirectTV). And even though there’s been little time to mourn the recent cancellation of critical darling Terriers, FX is back with Lights Out, its newest foray into the genre of men doing bad-ass things. This time, it’s boxing. And Lights Out works so delightfully well, embracing the cliches of the genre while also offering a new take on the tired-and-true boxing comeback story.

The pilot is a bit Rocky VI, the story of once great boxing champion who is compelled back into the ring after years of retirement. The comparisons to Rocky are inevitable and the similarities are initially obvious: Both Rocky and Patrick “Lights” Leary are retired boxers whose glamour has dwindled after they exited the ring. But Lights is different from Mr. Balboa; he’s not about to solve the Cold War. Lights is certainly a great father, but also perpetually bitter. This bitterness towards his wife, his family and his “current career” expresses itself in different ways: some subtle, some more apparent. Sometimes it’s a pause. Other times, it’s enforcing an unpaid debt. Or defending his name in a bar fight. Rocky might have walked away, but Lights doesn’t, even if he knows he should.

The stand-out of the pilot is easily Holt McCallany, who combines the roles of a cherishing father and a true pugnacious spirit effortlessly, breathing life into Lights. He takes the already great script and elevates the dialog beyond typical television fare. McCallany makes Lights’s nostalgia palpable to the viewer, coupling it with an obvious desire for a simple time. There’s something oddly cerebral about his performance as well; it’s a different take than most actors who portray ex-athletes, but it works because of the intellectual brilliance of the script. McCallany’s also brings the necessary physical appearance of an ex-boxer to accurately sell the audience on his old career. The rest of the class also brings it A-game: Stacy Keach, though underutilized, is fantastic as Lights’s slightly absent father and deserves more screen time in future episodes.

 

 

The production of Lights Out is also spectacular. Not necessarily in the amount of money poured into the sets, but in the overall tone of the decor. There are many stereotypical ways to exhibit the kinds of places that Lights grew up in: just watch any B-movie centered on a working class man who breaches into a high socio-economic strata. Even this summer’s fantastic The Town oversold working-class Boston (Every scene does not require Ben Affleck wearing another Boston sports team’s track suit for me to understand his home). Lights Out uses its setting slightly more skillfully than other recent attempts to portray the same environment. The Leary’s house isn’t too big, their gym isn’t too run down, and their accents aren’t too “rough.” It’s all “just enough.” There are maybe too many references to the monetary situation of the Leary’s, but it still never dominates the narrative. At the end of the day, Lights wants to get back into the ring, I suspect, because it’s what he loves to do.

Lights Out is a classic example of why cable is outclassing networks creatively: both the cast and script is better than almost every single new network show this cycle (save Lone Star and The Chicago Code). The structure of the pilot isn’t hindered by the four-act structure, but instead utilizes it to tell the most compelling version of the narrative. It’s a bit derivative, yes, but also compelling: A season-long epic to the final round certainly leaves the viewers wanting more.

It’s a challenging tale to tell without becoming stagnant, and only time will tell if Lights Out has what it takes to survive creatively. But the pilot is as good as they’ve come this year: get on board. You won’t be disappointed.

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