Film

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Is Lights Out down for the count?

The intro sequence for FX's Lights Out seems like a rush job. It is such that the sequence occurs after both the opening retrospective on past episodes and about 10 minutes of new show action. It's cheap looking, taking on the appearance of stock footage. It features a non-descript shadowboxing silhouette who is clearly not Holt McCallany, the show's scene-stealing protagonist and titular figure Patrick “Lights” Leary.

This is possibly owing to the turbulent nature of this program's inception. The pilot was originally shot in April 2009 under the supervision of writer Justin Zackham. It had problems and needed to be reworked and reshot by Warren Leight with a completely different cast (aside from McCallany). After fleshing out the characters and shooting a 13-episode season early in 2010, the show finally debuted on January 11, 2011 with less than impressive ratings that belie the show's realistic characterizations and engaging story.

The crux of the story is that Lights has been retired from boxing for five years, after losing a winnable fight and vowing to his wife/fight doctor that he'll never get in the ring again. Due to the flagging economy and gross financial mismanagement of his brother Johnny, Lights is going broke, forcing him to make various humiliating public appearances and provide shady tough guy favours. He is eventually presented with the obvious solution to his problems: take the offer for a rematch and betray his promise to his wife.

The result is very watchable and recalls the formula of a paternal figure with a secret that has been used to great effect on recent hits Breaking Bad and Mad Men. McCallany imbues this character with gravitas and is an accurately physical and imposing figure for someone playing a retired fighter. While there are some trite moments to explain the depths of his family obligation and poor child acting, the world of Lights Out is remarkably well-developed. Leary's status in his New Jersey community is illustrated brilliantly and lucidly with local colour reminiscent of Mark Wahlberg's Oscar-nominated film The Fighter.

So why was this show in danger of never being released to begin with? The premise is universally acceptable and a proven success. Perhaps it doesn't read as exciting as it might've during the late '70s and early '80s. Lights Out reflects on the world's dull perception of heavyweight boxing inside of its world. Lights and his father go to a bar and have to beg and plead to pull TV real estate away from the MMA fight for a glimpse at their comparatively orthodox blood sport. During a back room octagon battle of particularly high stakes, Leary refuses to go to the ground and wrestle his UFC-style bodyguard opponent out of principle.

But what compromises will Lights Out make in order to stay on the air? While there are some of the best programs ever among today's TV slate (Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad), the highest rated shows are either totally one-dimensional rehashes of existing properties (Hawaii 5-0), cases of Internet meme cannibalism ($h*! My Dad Says) or recontexualizations of previously successful crime porn enterprises (CSI, Law And Order, Criminal Minds). Perhaps the biggest ratings flaw of Lights Out is that it refuses to follow its formula simply enough. V
 

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