Violence and family life collide in ‘Lights Out’

Looking to fill the void left by the failure of original series “Terriers” during the fall, FX on Jan. 11 rolled out its newest show, “Lights Out.” After just one episode, the show promises to fill a Tuesday night niche for male viewers with a deep, complex sports drama unlike any on cable television.

The show centers on Patrick “Lights” Leary, a retired heavyweight boxer at the end of his money who needs to get back in the game. The pilot episode cuts between Leary’s last losing fight and his daily life five years later with a wife and three daughters. Leary, played by relative unknown Holt McCallany, tries to figure out how to continue supporting his family, and his choices come down to thug work or a reunion fight with the man who beat him in his last fight.

Patrick’s wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) isn’t aware that he’s run out of money and, out of concern for his health, doesn’t support his desire to return to the ring. He tries to hide from his wife and children the fact that he can’t afford their private school tuition.

But as the IRS audits him and Johnny, his brother/manager (Pablo Schreiber), the ropes begin to tighten. The pilot clearly suggests that Patrick’s desperation to maintain his previous lifestyle will push him to return to the ring, where the boxing will start.

So far, the show is more heavily focused on the personal aspects of Patrick’s life, rather than on professional boxing. This human focus works for the show because we easily understand the monotony of Holt’s life post−stardom. The viewer drools waiting for the moment when the excitement will happen, when Lights will rise to become a great sports hero once again.

Luckily, the series has the massive success of “The Fighter” (2010) to build off in order to amass a following. FX has cornered the market on male−driven shows, with successes like “Justified,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Rescue Me.” Tuesday night mostly has female−centric content on the major networks, like “The Good Wife” and “Parenthood,” so with the right marketing, “Lights Out” should be able to find an audience — even with last week’s less−than−expected ratings.

The writers seem to have a lot of room to run with a show like this. Already, they’ve set Patrick up to deal with training for his comeback, financial and familial difficulties and trouble with a crime boss after taking a job. And that’s only one episode.

The acting anchors all of these situations, most notably that of McCallany. His character is quite a complicated one; he’s a gentle father with violent tendencies. While his first instinct is to protect, he is constantly suppressing his need to fight and, in his mind, his need to be great again.

If there’s anything that this show seems to champion, it is that sports heroes deserve to be great while they can. Even though Patrick made the smart choice retiring for his health and his family, it’s almost degrading to see him cooking breakfast pancakes for teenage girls who don’t even appreciate it.

The series will hopefully maintain the gritty, hard−hitting style in which it is filmed. The editing punches back and forth between benign family scenes to violent shots of Patrick breaking someone’s arm before we even know what’s happening. A lot of the scenes are a little hazy, almost as if the director is using a handheld camera.

The style really works for the series — again, much like David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” — by forcing us to feel as if we’re living this man’s life with him. It makes the family drama that much more powerful, delaying the action thrills until later.

Buoyed by a strong cast, “Lights Out” fits right into the FX wheelhouse and deserves to be a hit. It may appeal more to a male audience, but for a show about boxing, it has a surprising amount of heart.


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