For a sport reportedly on skid row, boxing has made quite a pop culture splash in the past year. Both Frederick Wiseman's documentary Boxing Gym and David O. Russell's The Fighter are expected to bag Oscar nods. Now there's Lights Out. The new FX drama (premiering Jan. 11) about the second act in the life of a former heavyweight champ just may be the most realistic depiction of boxing's inner workings ever shown on TV.
Set in the Sopranos milieu of North Jersey, the show centers on Patrick (Lights) Leary—CSI: Miami's Holt McCallany—who was briefly on top of the sport before losing his title on a controversial decision and retiring. Five years have passed, and Leary, 40, now makes humiliating public appearances just to make the payments on his palatial estate. His identity crisis is compounded when he learns that nearly all of his career earnings were lost on a bad investment. Anyone who's seen a boxing movie knows where this story is going. It's how it gets there that makes Lights Out worth the ride.
Many of the characters inhabiting the gyms, bars and suburban vistas of the series are modernized versions of familiar tropes. But the contemporary setting brings to light such modern issues as the rising popularity of MMA and the attempts of boxers to form a union. Boxing fans will love the show for its detail and dialogue that rings true. But Lights Out strives for wider appeal, aiming for the same balance of sports and family drama achieved on NBC's Friday Night Lights.
Like many heavyweights, Lights Out is a bit of a slow starter. The first episodes, while engaging, are weighted with exposition. But the show picks up in the middle rounds: An episode with David Morse as a punchy former contender is a knockout. The action builds to a Hitchcockian climax—and a haunting coda—that proves Lights Out is a true contender.