Drama 'Lights Out' illuminates life of boxer trying to move on

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Ding! Ding! Ding! Chalk up "Lights Out" as another creative success for FX, the basic cable network that specializes in series with male-skewing milieus (dirty cop, firefighter, biker gang, U.S. marshal) that also present female-friendly character drama in series such as "The Shield," "Rescue Me," "Sons of Anarchy" and "Justified."

This time around the backdrop is boxing, as Patrick "Lights" Leary (Holt McCallany) tries to move on from his life in the ring at the insistence of his British-born doctor wife (Catherine McCormack). It's been five years since Leary's final bout that ended in a split decision and a concussion, and he's still living large despite cracks in the business empire he's hired his younger brother, Johnny (Pablo Schreiber), to manage.

The one-time champ now calls bingo games to earn some extra dough to support his family and keep a boxing gym open. A planned development project is falling apart, and the IRS comes knocking at Leary's door. Ultimately, Leary takes some unsavory work as a matter of male, wage-earning pride and because he wants to stockpile cash for his family: Leary has been diagnosed with pugilistic dementia -- he confuses numbers, can't remember his Social Security number -- and that could lead to early onset Alzheimer's. (This aspect of the plot brings to mind AMC's "Breaking Bad," which follows a high school chemistry teacher turned meth maker after his cancer diagnosis.)

Written by series creator Justin Zackham and executive producer Warren Leight ("In Treatment," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"), the "Lights Out" pilot (10 p.m. Tuesday) sometimes scrambles its scenes, presumably an intentional parallel to Leary's damaged brain. It's surprising at first, but works quite effectively once it's clear what's going on. It also lends the hour some mystery: We see a scene that looks like it will result in a fight, and in the next scene that follows, Leary is icing his fist. But viewers don't see the fight itself until a few scenes later. (Later episodes drop the scrambled scenes gambit for more linear storytelling.)

Mr. McCallany brings an underlying warmth to Leary that's somewhat unexpected. You figure a boxer will have a temper, but Leary manages to hold his anger in check several beats longer than fighters usually do in filmed entertainment.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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