Lights+Out


Review by Kara Gheldof

I knew I never should have given FX another chance so soon after their devastating cancellation of Terriers, arguably the best new show of the season, but what can I say? I’m helpless to good advertising, and Lights Out, the network’s latest original drama, about a retired heavyweight boxer who returns to the ring due to financial troubles, boasted some quality advertising last fall. The short teasers, featuring series star Holt McCallany in action, set to a rhythmic drumbeat, were nothing short of brilliance. They were enticing, artful, and sufficiently informative as far as plot was concerned. Unfortunately, despite having a better advertising setup, Lights Out seems to be heading down the same path as its unlucky predecessor. The ratings just aren’t adequate; this is another well-crafted show struggling to stay afloat because it can’t find an audience.

There is no reason why a show like this should be lacking in an appropriate audience. For the boxing enthusiasts, Lights Out is the only show on TV related to the sport, which doesn’t get a lot of exposure in the medium. Maybe it would seem like a less iconic Rocky to diehard fans of boxing, but to most, it ought to be a welcome break to the tedious slew of crime procedurals, vampire bandwagon shows, and medical melodramas. At the very least, it’s of higher quality than most of those archetypal shows; the dialogue is believable, the pacing is good. Admittedly, it started off a little slow, but the back story is important to understanding the main character’s return to the ring, and the story is moving along nicely.

There is much more going on than just a former heavyweight coming out of retirement to defend his title, though. Patrick "Lights" O’Leary was on top when he retired five years earlier at the behest of his long-suffering wife, who wanted him to focus on his family (three young daughters) and avoid getting hurt anymore. In retrospect, it seems like a good idea since Patrick finds out in the pilot that he is suffering from what appears to be pugilistic dementia, a deteriorating condition that he tries to hide from his family, for various reasons, not the least of which is their dwindling fortune. Somehow in five years, Patrick’s family has appeared to whittle away several million dollars, through a combination of private schools, mansions, his wife’s medical school, and most particularly, a series of bad investments led by Patrick’s ne’er do well brother-slash-manager, Johnny. Patrick’s left doing degrading public appearances just to make ends meet, but then Johnny dangles an opportunity in front of him—the chance to make a bit more money by doing some not-so-legal things for a not-so-savory character working behind the scenes.

Patrick hesitates at first but eventually gets involved, to varying degrees of success. Watching the desperate downward spirals of the characters on this show reminds me in a lot of ways of AMC’s hit, Breaking Bad, wherein a family man suffering from a debilitating condition also begins a life of crime out of desperation and an inability to provide for his family. The comparisons are apt, though Lights Out will never compare favorably to the AMC drama. A few episodes in, it’s clear that Patrick’s destiny is not to be absorbed into a criminal life to restore his pride, but to reenter the ring, and pin down that elusive victory once and for all.

Lights Out will probably be allowed to air its entire first season, but seeing beyond that not-too-distant horizon is impossible at this point. With ratings being what they are, it seems unlikely for renewal unless it finds an audience and quick. It would be a shame to see this drama go the way of the heartbreakingly ill-fated Terriers, so turn your TVs to FX Tuesday nights at 10 and watch Lights Out, or this fight will be over before it’s barely even begun.

© Kara Gheldof, 2011