Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Turn On Lights Out


Apparently boxing is making a comeback. Although there is no shortage of famous boxing movies from the past few decades – all the Rocky films, Raging Bull, The Hurricane, Ali, Cinderella Man– there has been a recent surge of boxing in pop culture. With the help of one of the best movies I’ve seen in awhile, The Fighter, and the newest FX television series Lights Out, boxing is seemingly everywhere.

While I’ve never really watched boxing on TV, I have covered a few amateur fights at the Denver Athletic Club which have always been exciting. That being said, I’ve never gone out of my way to watch HBO fights or boxing reality shows like The Contender until I saw the previews for Lights Out and thought it looked interesting. I also figured that if FX’s track record indicates anything (this is the same network that brings us Rescue Me, Sons Of Anarchy and Justified) the show was going to be gritty, hardcore, well-acted and contain a TV-MA warning before each episode. And I was right.

Lights Out stars Holt McCallany as aging former heavyweight boxing champion Patrick “Lights” Leary who struggles to find his identity and support his wife and three daughters after retiring from the ring five years prior. Leary’s career came to an end when his wife Theresa gave him an ultimatum to either stop boxing or lose his family. Unfortunately, this ultimatum came right after Lights loses a match he should have won after taking horrible advice from his father/former trainer. Now the loss (which was also his last time in the ring) haunts Lights on seemingly a daily basis as his neighbors, family, colleagues and people of the press constantly bring it up.

In addition to his father, Theresa and the girls, Lights’ family also includes his brother and businesses manager Johnny and their sister who owns a diner. After paying for his brother to go to business school, putting his wife through medical school, currently paying for his three girls to attend private school and their palatial house complete with a neatly manicured lawn, Lights is tapped out for cash. He should have all the money in the world but instead he is missing payments on the house and cars and is being chased down by the IRS. His financial problems leave him at a tough crossroads as he is battling the urge to return to boxing or reluctantly accept a job as a brutal debt collector. Meanwhile, Lights may be suffering from a form of dementia commonly found in boxers. Of course Lights doesn’t want his wife and children to know about the financial or health issues so he is, according to Theresa, “back to lying like the old days.” Clearly we will see what she means in future episodes – unless Lights gets back in the ring to fight the boxer he unfairly lost to five years prior.

While McCallany plays Lights with a calm, cool demeanor one wouldn’t expect from a boxer his character is a cliché so far. He keeps having flashbacks of his fighting days, specifically his final fight, and there’s no question he misses being in the game. Physically McCallany looks like a boxer who hasn’t missed a day of training and although Lights continues to be a local legend who draws people asking for autographs while calling him “champ,” the legend is fading. Like his brother Johnny says – “you were a champ but five years was a long time ago.”

How the series will go remains to be seen but I find myself very interested in what Lights decides to do with his life and how he plans to turn it around. I hope he stops doing these embarrassing public appearances (kids’ birthday parties, hosting bingo nights, mattress commercials, etc.) and does something great. I’m assuming he will get back into boxing but who knows – FX features ballsy shows for a reason and, like Lights himself, they are not afraid to do something unexpected.

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