[01/11/11 - 12:04 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Lights Out" (FX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "Lights Out, from Executive Producer/Showrunner Warren Leight (In Treatment, Law & Order Criminal Intent), stars Holt McCallany (CSI: Miami) as "Patrick 'Lights' Leary," an aging former heavyweight boxing champion who struggles to find his identity and support his wife and three daughters after retiring from the ring. The financial downturn coupled with a series of failed investments leave him at a perilous crossroads - battling the urge to return to boxing or reluctantly accepting a job as a brutal and intimidating debt collector. Catherine McCormack (Braveheart) co-stars as "Theresa Leary," Lights' wife who is finishing her medical residency; Pablo Schreiber (The Wire) as "Johnny Leary," Lights' brother and business manager; and Stacy Keach (Fat City) as "Robert 'Pops' Leary," Lights' father and former trainer who runs the boxing gym owned by Lights."

What did they leave out? The show went through significant recasting following the pilot with Catherine McCormack taking over for Melora Hardin as Leary's wife, Pablo Schreiber replacing Elias Koteas as Leary's brother (previously a childhood friend) and Stacy Keach assuming the role of Leary's father from Kevin Conway.

The plot in a nutshell: It's been five years since former heavyweight champion Patrick "Lights" Leary (the wonderfully gravel-voiced hulk that is Holt McCallany) hung up his boxing gloves following a controversial loss to "Death Row" Reynolds (Billy Brown). You see, following the particularly brutal fight, Leary's wife - physicians-assistant-turned-resident Theresa (Catherine McCormack) - gave him an ultimatum: the ring or her and their three daughters. He chose retirement and the ensuing years have served him well - a big house, adoring kids and a hero's welcome around his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey.

It's not without its detractors though - his ailing father/trainer Pops (Stacy Keach) still needles him about his decision to retire, lippy bar patrons mutter that he's washed up and the occasional bout of memory loss drums up fears about something more serious in the works. All the above however takes a backseat to the news his brother/manager Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) has been targeted by the IRS and a key investor in their multi-million dollar real estate venture together has pulled out. In short, Leary's broke and his expensive lifestyle isn't exactly helping.

Johnny however has been approached about securing Leary's services to collect from a particularly high profile debtor (Christopher Shyer). It's an offer he initially scoffs at but ultimately realizes may be his only way to keep things going, especially when the nagging concerns about his health bear unfortunate fruit.

What works: There's a lot of interesting stuff at work here as the world of boxing - and the infamous underbelly that comes with it - provides quite a lot of storytelling fodder. What's more compelling however is McCallany himself, who manages to run the gamut between pee-your-pants stare downs and ruthless bar fights to low key moments like teaching a group of kids at a birthday party the basics of boxing and instilling the value of telling the truth into his daughter. The show then cleverly frames his plight as an outlet for the rage inside him.

He retired at the peak of his career and, regardless of the sentiment behind it, it's not easy to let go - especially when someone's around every corner reminding you about it. Mixed in with Leary's various family foibles - Pops's decision to have Leary hold back in the final rounds of the aforementioned fight may have cost him the victory; Johnny's not exactly thrilled with being Leary's financial enabler all these years; and Theresa's newfound career finds him alone more than not - and the character stuff is genuinely quite compelling.

What doesn't: The flip side is the show takes quite a big leap pretty quickly. Even with his newfound career it's obvious the coffers are going to be empty pretty soon between his wife's med school bills and his kids' private school education... and yet he still drives around in a classic car, lives in a palatial estate and owns a well-respected gym. Said aspects unfortunately give you the sense that his financial issues are nothing a few calls to Suze Orman can't cure. Even presuming Leary's ego blinds him towards this, it's still quite a stretch.

Thankfully, the sense begins to develop that there's more to Leary's motivations than simply providing for his family. After all, part of him downright loves once again having the ability to instill fear in those who want to step to him. It's a reckless, Faustian deal for sure as those few moments of release lead to endless headaches on the home and professional fronts. It's also nice to see future episodes open up Leary's world a little: episode two introduces a dogged reporter/childhood friend (Ben Shenkman) who gets wind of Leary's antics while episode three showcases an up-and-coming fighter at the gym (Pedro Pascal) whom Leary takes under his wing. All in all, I like what I see so far...

The bottom line: ...and hope even more good stuff is to come.

  [january 2011]  


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