Lights Out Is A Heavyweight!


FX’s new series, Lights Out [Tuesdays, 10/9C], is a terrific series that avoids most of the big clichés that abound in boxing movies mostly because it focuses on a retired heavyweight champion who actually seems perfectly happy in his post-boxing life – until that life comes crashing down around his ears.

We first see an unconscious Patrick ‘Lights’ Leary [Holt McCallany] on a massage table in his dressing room after losing a fight he should have won. His wife appears but we cut to flashes of the fight before she stitches up a cut on his eyelid – then insists he retire. And we cut to five years later…

Lights is happy and enjoying retirement – he cooks for his family and dotes on his three daughters. If he seems a bit forgetful at times, or his mind wanders, it doesn’t happen any more often than it would for anyone else. When he’s not at home, he can be found at the gym he bought his father [Stacy Keach] –which also houses his brother, Johnny’s [Pablo Schreiber] office.

Unfortunately, Johnny – whom Lights put through business school – turns out to not have been particularly effective in his investment strategies and, coupled with the current fiscal situation, the result is that Lights and Johnny are broke. Lights has two options, as he sees it: work as a collector for gentlemanly barracuda named Hall Brennan, or try to make a comeback at the advanced age of forty.

In the premiere, the situation is set up and we get bits of the big fight that cost Lights his championship. The adult leads – McCallany, Keach and Catherine McCormack – are all very good, but the surprise, for me at least, is Ryan Sharp as the Learys’ middle daughter, Daniella.

Daniella stumbles over some research on pugilistic dementia on her father’s computer [which was using to do homework because her typing on the computer in her room was bothering her older sister, Ava [Meredith Hagner]. Suddenly, this girl has knowledge that she really shouldn’t have, and she has to deal with it – talking with her father while not letting her mother or sisters know that she knows.

Watching a happy childhood being snuffed out and replaced with a distraught, way-too-early mini-adulthood isn’t easy, but Sharp makes Dannie completely believable. Lights’ knowledge that she knows about his possibly having dementia also adds to the financial burden he’s already facing. Watching Lights and Dannie talk is incredibly poignant.

Over the course of the five episodes that FX provided, Lights’ story unfolds in ways that the premiere only hints at. The writing is not nearly as in your face as on other FX shows – it’s not as action-packed [though there is action; usually of a pugilistic nature] – and explores the dynamics of the Leary family in a more nuanced manner. When there are fights, though, they are incredibly savage.

There are a few clichés in the show because they are truths that cannot be ignored in any film or series that revolves around the boxing world: the fight has a manager who may, or may not, have his best interests at heart; there will be a corrupt boxing promoter [played here with real flair by Reg E. Cathey], and there will be an aging trainer who just knows his fighter has the talent to go all the way to the top.

Lights out takes these clichés from different angles than usual – the trainer, for instance, is Pops, Lights’ dad [a real father, rather than the usual father figure]. The big difference, though, is that the series looks at Lights’ family in depth – and his decisions have real, sometimes painful consequences [and I’m not talking about boxing, here].

Lights Out is more realistic than most boxing movies because it exists in a world that feels real in and out of the ring. That also gives it its heart: Lights is a working class guy who became champion through a combination of talent and hard, grinding work. The series works because it never forgets that.

Final Grade: A