FX’s new boxing drama “Lights Out” is, to my recollection, the first of its kind: a non-reality based boxing series on TV. But if you’re a real-life boxing fan looking for “eat lightning and crap thunder” training scenes and epic slugfests, you might as well watch something else. Sure the sex and violence is there — this is, after all, a show on the same network that brought us the epic cop drama “The Shield” and the equally good “Justified” — but they are more atavistic endeavors than cinematic beauty. The pilot episode, of which a review copy was provided to The Queensberry Rules, offers a decidedly mixed bag.
The pilot, appropriately, sets the stage for what the series is “about.” It begins with a close up shot of Patrick “Lights” Leary (played by Holt McCallany of Fight Club fame and CSI:Miami infamy). His face is savaged; his eyes are closed; he is seemingly at peace. Whether Leary is laying on an autopsy table or on a table in the locker room we don’t know until an agonizing minute later, as a woman who turns out to be Leary’s wife, Theresa (Catherine McCormack, Braveheart), walks in and gives Leary a whiff of some smelling salts. We flash back to the fight that put Leary on that table, and the fight resembles something more like two caveman fighting than actual boxing. We cut back to the locker room where Theresa is stitching up her Lights’ eye and the first thing that that he mutters is, “I was robbed.” Lights wants a rematch; Theresa wants him to stop boxing. And she lays down an ultimatum: “Either you stop or we stop.” We flash forward five years later to Theresa and Lights making love, only to be interrupted by their youngest daughter and a call from the hospital that takes Theresa away to work. And we find out during the course of the episode that the caveman that we caught a glimpse of in the beginning is now a family man, cooking breakfast, shuttling his youngest daughter to school, and having to deal with his eldest daughter’s newly-discovered boyfriend. Lights also has to deal with the problems that come with being a retired boxer: money, the IRS, health issues. This is nothing new to fight fans.
So what does “Lights Out” have that will make me come back for the rest of the season? Holt McCallany’s performance as Patrick Leary. Yes, there are other characters who populate Lights’ world like his wife, his brother/business manager Johnny, and Lights’ and Johnny’s father “Pops,” who is the trainer at their gym (played by the reliably gruff Stacy Keach). But the first episode and maybe the series as a whole depends on the acting skills of McCallany. His portrayal of Patrick Leary is like that of a circus lion who has learned to jump through hoops all his life and is suddenly let out into the wild with real predators and prey, not quite sure which one he is. We get glimpses of the “prey” side of Lights mostly when he is alone, looking like a man about to break but who finds it in himself to keep on going. But when Lights’ gets to be the predator here is where McCallany shines — he gets to show that he was trained in captivity but he is still a fucking lion. Whether it’s staring down a would be suitor for his daughter, sinking low enough to be a collections man for a local gangster, or fighting some twat waffle stock broker in the parking lot of a bar, there is no over the top bluster, like some kind of violent peacock — just something primal and vicious about his eyes like a promise of pain known and pain to come.
So does “Lights Out” add anything particularly new to boxing in popular media, besides the fact that it is a non-reality boxing TV series? No. But it is just well-made enough to keep me watching.
Noel Tanap is a semi-retired hermit, time machine enthusiast, and freelance gulag escape artist. He can often be seen wandering the streets of Hawaii wearing a hairshirt and muttering about the coming of the Old Ones.