"Integrity, are you kiddin' me? This is boxing."
FX's upcoming boxing drama "Lights Out" debuts on January 11 at 10pm EST, and buzz has built around the show. But that buzz is coming mostly from TV reviewers, not boxing fans. How does the show hold up for a hardcore boxing fan?
The cast is more than capable, and combined with some strong writing and directing, the show is carried by its players. Holt McCallany turns in a very strong performance as Patrick "Lights" Leary, in what could well be a long-awaited breakout role for the veteran actor. Stacy Keach gives his usual fine effort as Pops Leary, the father-trainer of Lights and his brother Johnny (Pablo Schreiber). Johnny, like Patrick, was a fine fighter, but derailed his career as an amateur. Having been put through business school by "Lights," he is now the family CEO.
The storylines are going to be familiar to boxing aficionados. Bad business decisions made by Johnny, who is slightly wormy in his would-be promoter sleaziness, have left "Lights" with little choice but to mount a comeback in the ring at the age of 40, five years after retiring following a controversial decision loss to Richard "Death Row" Reynolds. Patrick is now faced with the indignities of hosting high-society bingo nights, filming commercials for local businesses that make The Wiz look tasteful, and hocking autographed memorabilia on a QVC-like. Eventually, even that dries up, leading him to an association with shady businessman Hal Brennan (Bill Irwin). Oh, and his health is failing him, too, thanks to his years in the ring. (I'm aware this seems like Too Damn Much, but then so did Precious.)
But as everything continues to spiral for "Lights," he has to mount the comeback. What happens from there is, you would think, the heart of the show, but really it isn't. The heart of the show is found in McCallany's portrayal of this broke ex-champion -- yes, the subject matter has been done to death, but there is also evidence of the writers actually searching out what boxing is today instead of just copying the Rocky formula. Modern day versions of corruption in the sport, the general disdain boxing people feel for mixed martial arts (Bas Rutten guests), the state of the game is pretty well-known by the writers, and everything feels about as authentic as a TV show is going to feel when dealing with promoters and other fighters. In particular, a young Armenian middleweight (Pedro Pascal) stands out as something that feels pretty accurate. It is, I will admit, all kind of corny to me, but then I'm the type of guy who gets up at 4am to try to find a stream of a fight from Japan. The delivery is what matters, and the cast tends to deliver.
If there is one complaint about the cast, it's that the relationship between "Lights" and his wife (Catherine McCormack) is at times a bit too, I don't know, "intense" or just a little overdramatic, even considering their dire financial straits, but for the most part, the show's cast has fine chemistry.
But let's talk about the boxing scenes. They are, as you will likely expect, atrocious. There is not a hint of realism to this stuff, as this is where the show takes its most blatant pages from Rocky. The show's open is the end of Leary's final fight five years ago, and if you know boxing, you know for a fact that the beating he is delivering in round 11 would get any referee on earth to jump in and put a stop to the contest. As Leary's opponent stumbles back to his corner, I expected the doctor to intervene. Of course that doesn't happen, because this is drama. As much as I try to ignore it, it does irk me. I know that boxing is not going to look like boxing in movies or on television, and I don't expect it to. There are almost no basketball movies where the basketball looks credible, either, and some of the baseball and football out there is nearly as bad as the rock 'em sock 'em boxing you find. My only suggestion would be to try to look past that, and find the show's soul in the cast and the writing.
(I must mention that it would be impossible to overlook the "cage fight" that comes about before the boxing comeback. This is an all-time awful representation of prizefighting. Just unbelievably horrible, and will make MMA fans cringe.)
I've got no idea if this show will be a hit or not, because I'm not what I'd call in tune with the general public and their television desires. I do know that this show, unlike the barrage of reality TV nonsense, is worth a chance. FX has upped their game in recent years, and "Lights Out" is a strong addition to their lineup.
Full Disclosure: Bad Left Hook did receive a review copy of the first season of "Lights Out."