Recently, FX has established itself as a great venue for interesting, edgy television - shows like Always Sunny, Damages and the Shield have made it a network filled with quality programming. How will its newest show, Lights Out compare?
The Set Up
Lights Out begins right after the big fight has ended and with main character Patrick "Lights" Leery blacked out in the training room. He's attended to by a physician's assistant, his wife, who, after rousing him, gives him the typical "it's me or boxing" talk.
We pick up five years later as Lights has settled into his life: he lives in a gigantic house, his wife is in medical school, he has three daughters in private school and he owns a boxing gym. But, of course, all isn't well beneath the surface: tuition is killing him, his weaselly brother in law is managing him into the ground and his gym is losing money hand over fist. He's resorted to emceeing local Bingo nights to make extra cash and later in the episode, in the "never again" moment, goes out as muscle to collect some gambling debts.
Cringe Factor (out of 10)
This pilot has a lot of work to do. We need to see how great Lights' life is and also how fragile. We need to see how nice a guy he is and also that he has a dark side. Because it's a show about a retired boxer struggling with real life, it's inevitable that there some similarities to the second half of Raging Bull here, minus the stage act. Elements of the Wrestler come into play when they work in Lights' deteriorating health, and when dealing with Lights' daughters, but all in all a lot of this stuff is handled with grace and tact, though some of it is pretty heavy-handed and clichéd, especially sections of dialogue that needed one more draft.
The best parts are when the show focuses on Lights and his relationship with his daughters, though it's also the part that draws most heavily from the Sopranos as it tries to have Lights walk the line between psychopath and doting father. The show sings when confronting these issues, like the scene when Lights mad dogs his eldest daughter's boyfriend while his wife talks about trust and openness. But then again, the trust stuff ("we have a family motto: ‘trust or bust,'" says his wife) gets a little hackneyed and the show has to force some of the elements to come together properly. In this scene from close to the end of the episode, Lights explains to his youngest daughter that he's done fighting and we get some crosscutting to various fights that Lights has gotten in during the pilot, including a parking lot brawl at a bar and on his collection run. It's nicely done, but to have to hit us over the head with the "I want them to like me, but I don't want them to be like me" line from the Sopranos that essentially summed up the whole show, seems indicative of some problems.
One of those problems is obviously structure, as that moment has to weave together three different elements to create one flashback. But the show redeems itself right at the end of the pilot. A good pilot has two inciting incidents, one that serves the pilot itself (in this case, Lights walking away) and one that serves the whole series. The second one is a re-match of the fight that begins the show. It's such a surprise that even Lights doesn't know what's happening, it's been set up behind his back by his brother, and it's a great idea from a story-telling perspective. The rematch frames the season, it provides the natural arc of a boxing movie, but with enough time for meaningful subplots. The only frustration comes from knowing that we're going to have to get to a point where Lights can agree to it; his knee-jerk reaction is to pass, because it'll cost him everything, and his wife storms out saying "I won't go through this again." But we know it's gonna happen because why else is there a show?
(Quick side bar: In case you were wondering, yes, this is a two Wire-alum show. The part of Lights' brother is played by Pablo Schreiber, from Season 2 and Reynold's promoter is Reg E. Cathey who played Norman in the later seasons.)
Over/Under for Cancellation
FX rarely pulls shows mid-season, even when they are watched by literally no one (sorry, Terriers), so one full season is an inevitability. Because it'll build toward that fight (complete conjecture, actually, but whatever), the season will end with something definitive, Lights will either win or lose the fight. And that will provide some impetus for a second season. Whether or not it provides impetus enough for a third is more doubtful.