I am a fan of boxing-themed entertainment, going back to at least "The Harder They Fall" and up through the "Rocky" movies and beyond. But when I saw "The Fighter" not long ago, I realized that the climactic fight in such productions is a bit of a letdown, not only because it completes the story but because the result has usually been foreshadowed. This raises movies like "The Great White Hype" in my estimation because the fight is a refreshing (and, in that case, hilarious) change; one of the reasons the first "Rocky" is so great is that Rocky's redemption does not require him to win the big fight, just to get through it with some pride and dignity.
I bring all this up because of "Lights Out," the series premiering tonight on FX. It is a very good show, and may well be a great one. . . .
It follows fighter Patrick "Lights" Leary (Holt McCallany), a retired boxer and former champion. The years of retirement have seemed good, until Leary learns that he has lost all his money. He tried some of the avenues open to him, such as public appearances, but all he ends up with his humiliation and more trouble. In the end, the only real way to get well financially is to agree to another fight, with the current champion, who beat Leary in a controversial split decision long ago.
I know, you're thinking "Rocky II." And some of "V." and "VI." But "Lights Out" is closer thematically to "The Harder They Fall" or "The Great White Hype" in its interest in the complexity and corruption of professional boxing, and all the things Leary has to deal with in order to get to that big fight. I have watched several of the beginning episodes, other bits and the first-season finale, which does indeed involve the Big Fight. But, again, the show is not just about what happens in the ring, and the end of the 13th episode takes a great turn that makes me very much want to see what the show will do in a second season.
My reasons for liking this are many: solid writing which actually makes you wonder more than once how the Big Fight will turn out, intriguing characters and a really fine cast that includes Stacy Keach (whose resume includes the fine boxing movie "Fat City, with a young Jeff Bridges) as Leary's father. But I have to single out McCallany's performance. It would be easy to make Leary either too endearing or too unlikable, given what he goes through and what he has to do. This actor knows how to walk the line between the two, to make you understand Leary's bad acts and still hold good wishes for him. As I said, worth your viewing time.