Episode 1 - Pilot
28 March 2012
Synopsis: Former champ Patrick "Lights" Leary is five years on from his last fight. The events of that night still haunt him and he now faces financial trouble after bad investments and the economic downturn. Both his old (brother and father) and new (wife and daughters) family rely on him and he faces difficult choices about keeping his lifestyle afloat. The only serious money he is offered is as a kind of debt collector and then his last opponent Richard Reynolds challenges him to a rematch.
The Good: This is not a very subtle pilot and that is one of its strengths. We cover a lot of ground as we follow Lights around his daily chores and rapidly piece together what the last five years of his life have been like. By the episodes end it's pretty clear where the season is headed. Like any classic fight story he is going to reach the point where he will risk his marriage for the chance to once more step into the ring for a fight which he hopes will solve all his problems. It's a compelling story for anyone who likes sports and the pilot sets it up well.
Lights is what you would expect. He is as loving husband, father and son. He loves the sport of boxing, the thrill of competition and the discipline and skills of training. He is also a thug who enjoys hitting people. The writers do a good job of showcasing the different sides to him without treading on too many cliches. Lights has a temper and has no qualms about beating up a man who goads him or breaking a man's arm to collect money. But he dutifully picks up his Dad's groceries, tries to protect his children from the bad things in life and is kind and restrained when he wants to be. He goes to great effort to make his daughters pancakes for breakfast but then completely forgets to take his youngest to school.
I liked that the show didn't patronise us with Lights' problems. He owns a huge house and his own gym. His children are privately educated and he pays his brother a good wage. His shortage of money isn't a hardship story, it's about his vanity. He wishes his business dealings could be above board but it's more important to him to keep everyone in the style to which they have become accustomed. He tries to get the dentist to pay his debts in a civilised manner but is happy to resort to arm wringing. He is content to laugh off the stock broker's taunts but it doesn't take much to change his mind. Ultimately Lights is a thug and is a proud man. He isn't a hero, he is a very normal person. Again it wasn't subtle but the way all this violence was revealed was very entertaining (see Best Moment).
Yet there is real sympathy in there too. We don't know exactly what happened in his final fight with Reynolds but the perceived injustice still burns him. More than that you can see that competition is what gets him out of bed in the morning. Being the champ and being the best got his juices flowing like nothing else and he misses it. There is real sadness in seeing someone who had to step away from something they love. Add to that his trip to the doctor where he is reminded of the sad consequences of too many punches to the head.
Holt McCallany is convincing as Lights. He is charismatic and likeable while also being convincingly threatening and unlikeable. Lights Out feels like a well pitched show. It's a boxing drama. You know where the season is going and it isn't here to retell a familiar story. But it seems to have enough nuance and intrigue to make for a thoroughly watchable show.
The Bad: The actual boxing footage was perhaps the least convincing part of this. We see Lights getting three unopposed bloody punches in on Reynolds, something that you barely ever see in boxing. One reason being that someone would have been knocked down hard by that.
The Unknown: The show isn't trying to be Mad Men or Breaking Bad. There were times when Lights' interactions with his family headed toward cliche territory, nothing which could ruin the episode, but they felt very familiar. That won't bother me at all if the main narrative remains as clear and strong as the pilot but there are potential problems there.
What really did happen in that final round with Reynolds?
Best Moment: Lights' eldest daughter Ava lied to her parents and spent the night with her boyfriend. He tells her that when people lie they are hiding a part of themselves. Soon we see him telling his youngest daughter that Daddy doesn't fight anymore. At the same time we revisit scenes from earlier in the episode and see the violence that he was in fact dishing out. The point wasn't subtle but it was well made. Lights is hiding his true self to protect his wife and daughters from the unpleasant ways he is paying for their lives. The flashback was a nice touch to give us a fuller picture of his life after we left those earlier scenes with only the implication of violence.
Conclusion: There is promise here for an entertaining show and this was a good pilot.
Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.