This review may contain spoilers.
Lights Out got off to a poor start in ratings terms last week, attracting fewer viewers for the first episode than for the premiere Terriers, a show which had gained a devoted fanbase and become rather a cause celebre amongst critics, yet was cancelled by FX after one season, due to vastly inadequate viewing figures.
It’s a shame that Lights Out hasn’t met with enthusiasm in these early stages, and it’s hard to pinpoint why it might be the case. It’s certainly not due a lack of marketing on FX’s part, and the show’s timeslot in the US is a pretty good one.
Perhaps there just isn’t a market for sporting television dramas. One of the very best television shows of the past decade, American football drama, Friday Night Lights, continues to be watched by almost nobody in its home country, and didn’t even make it past the first series when shown on British channel ITV2 (although regularly programming it against The Apprentice and Champions League football probably didn’t help).
Lights Out‘s poor showing certainly shouldn’t be blamed on a lack of quality from the show itself. These first two episodes have been solidly entertaining stuff and a promising beginning to the season ahead.
This week our hero Lights finds himself having to deal with the fallout and consequences from some of the more violent and reckless acts he committed in the pilot. The dentist paid a visit by Lights has a broken arm, and some of the more conscientious attendees of the dinner party where it got broken have decided to report him to the police, leading to Lights being dragged off in the back of a police car in front of his terrified family.
Meanwhile, Lights’schildhood friend turned boxing reporter, Mike Fumosa (Ben Shenkman), is sniffing around both the dentist story and Lights’ potential rematch with Richard “Death Row” Reynolds, the man he lost his belt to in controversial fashion five years previously. Like most situations, Lights dismisses this problem as one he can charm his way out of, particularly as he used to protect him from bullies as a kid. Lights overestimates his loyalty and underestimates his desperation. However, as Fumosa puts it, “You think boxing’s bad? Try being a boxing reporter for a newspaper.”
Lights also comes face to face with Brennan, the mysterious figure who paid him to visit the dentist. Brennan offers to help out with Lights’ law trouble if he drops off a ‘cake’ at a government official’s house. It’s reassuring to see that they’re not averse to dropping some terrible puns into the episode titles, even if they’re not boxing related (yet).
What struck me about this episode was how comfortable Lights was, firstly, lying to his family, and then, secondly, drawing them deeper into his web of deceit until they effectively become accessories after the fact. Literally, in the case of wife, Theresa, who offers up a fake alibi to give to the police regarding the dentist beating, before Lights even has to ask her. It’s interesting that she seems so eager to take part in the deception, particularly as it is hinted at that she knows Lights isn’t telling the truth about the assault, and also that he has a history of deceit that somehow ties in with his previous boxing career.
However, it’s not just his wife he persuaded to play along with his deceptions. After his studious daughter discovers his diagnosis of pugilistic dementia, he asks her to keep it a secret from his wife. Later, he tells his youngest daughter how much he enjoyed her ballet performance, despite turning up after it had finished, as his disgusted family look on.
Lights is attempting to juggle his criminal life, his family life, and his professional life all at once, never once facing up to the true challenges inherent in each one.
Cakewalk features an excellent boxing scene between Lights and Omar, the new up-and-coming star of the gym, as a sparring bout arranged by Lights’ dad escalates into a tense war of egos. The fight is wonderfully shot, giving the fighting a really gritty vitality that bodes well for the in-ring action that will inevitably be coming later in the series.
One criticism I could level at Lights Out so far is that its production values aren’t quite up to the standards of other cable dramas. Certainly, after Boardwalk Empire it’s a particularly noticeable step down. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it looks cheap, but in the scenes where, for example, a press conference or a faux TV show is shown, the lack of glitz and detail breaks the immersion in a way that’s a little distracting.
Otherwise, this is good stuff, and the shocking coda opens up a whole range of possibilities, setting up the next few episodes nicely. If you’re not on board with Lights Out yet, you should give it a go. Please, don’t let it become another Terriers.
Read our review of the series premiere here.