With plenty of buzz and praise all over the place for David O. Russell’s boxing drama The Fighter, there’s no better time for FX to premiere their new boxing-centric drama series Lights Out. But while Mickey Ward had to struggle with opponents in the ring and his own invasive family while trying to break out of the ambition-killing town holding him back, Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany) is a retired boxer and trying to do everything he can to stop from getting back in the ring. For a series focusing on a boxer, there’s not a whole lot of boxing to be seen in every episode, but that doesn’t mean this series doesn’t pack some punches to deliver yet another great series on FX. For details on the first five rounds with Lights Out, keep reading.
After seeing the first five episodes of Lights Out, it’s easy to see why a movie like The Fighter or Rocky can get a viewer all riled up and full of energy. You’ve got training montages, great success, and plenty of inspiration, even if there’s a bit of adversity to be faced. But a lot of that is already in Leary’s past. As a matter of fact, Leary lives a quiet life with his family. He’s not crying poverty, the money from his fights bought him a nice house and a business partnership with his father (Stacy Keach) and brother has him owning a gym always trying to train future champions. But just because Leary isn’t fighting in the ring anymore, doesn’t mean he’s not taking punches elsewhere.
I’m not talking about getting into fist fights at the local bar (though that does inevitably happen), but rather dealing with life outside the ring. Though he hasn’t had many problems to deal with, there’s trouble brewing. Patrick’s younger brother Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) is handling the finances and when his kid’s school tuition isn’t getting paid and cars are getting repossessed, clearly something is wrong. In addition to the economy coming down hard on the gym, Johnny’s ex-wife is forcing an IRS investigation for misallocated funds and Patrick is broke. But that’s not all. Patrick has just found out that he’s got early signs of pugilistic dementia, and it shows as he forgets his social security number and forgets where he parked the car. On top of that, Leary is constantly reminded of his final losing fight against Reynolds, a cocky boxer who has called him out for a re-match, and even if Patrick puts on a strong face for the media, he regrets walking away from the sport after that fight.
But ever loyal and dedicated to staying out of the ring, Patrick has to do whatever he can to keep his family afloat. If that means doing a shady favor for one of his brothers underground friends, then so be it. If that means appearing at a birthday party or calling out numbers at a local bingo game, that’s what has to be done. All through these problems, Holt McCallany delivers a subtle, but stellar performance. He takes hits, but shows resilience with his family. It’s the smallest facial expression that gives only a slight hint of his emotions. While some might find his performance bland, I find it strangely captivating. Few men can be so intimidating without seeming threatening at all.
That’s also what helps make Patrick so endearing as a character. He does some questionable acts for money, but it’s only because he’s pushed so far and love his family enough to stay way from boxing. Being away from boxing doesn’t stop him throwing a few punches though as he’s somewhat begrudgingly sent to deliver a message to a dentist who owes some money to a big-time local bookie. But it’s not like Leary walks into a man’s house throwing punches, it takes some real disrespect and taunting for him to push back with his fists. Some of his struggles as a grown, aging, afflicted man dealing with a string of shady business dealings and violence call back to series like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, but still this show has some power behind it. It also helps that the seeds for later plot points are planted briefly before being fully revealed in later episodes
But as the myriad of Patrick’s troubles become more clear, his wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) becomes more worried. McCormack does a decent enough job standing alongside her husband, and she makes you dislike her character ever so slightly for taking Patrick away from boxing and keeping him from what he loves and what brought this family the nice home she has today. For that I give her credit, but the actress’ British roots keep showing up often enough to be distracting. I’m not sure if her character is supposed to have a muddled American accent, but it’s there, and unfortunately very noticeable. In addition, Schreiber’s performance isn’t quite as strong as McCallany’s. I just don’t get a sense of much range from him or his character.
With as little boxing there is every episode (don’t worry there’s still some good fights), the fight outside of the ring is still compelling stuff. The show is a slow burn. There’s a lot of anticipation and build-up, but the arrival of a fight, conflict or any point of excitement doesn’t arrive with pomp and circumstance (but that’s not a bad thing at all). The show doesn’t aim to create a feel-good vibe like Rocky. It aims to show the hard life of a retired boxer and all the problems that come with a career that ends before a third of your life is over and doesn’t provide enough means to live the rest of it. This show is about a family struggling to keep their father out of harms way, even if that means keeping him away from something that fills him with life. Lights Out isn’t exactly a knockout, but it’s better than most of the network dramas out there, especially since most of them seem more concerned with lawmen solving crimes that have big name guest stars for criminals and suspects.
THE FINAL WORD: To call Lights Out a simple boxing drama would be a hasty generalization. This show is about a fight for life rather than a few fights in the ring. I’m willing to go however many rounds FX dishes out, and I recommend you throw on some gloves and hop in the ring with Lights Out too
Lights Out premieres tonight at 10/9c and airs every Monday in the same time slot on FX