Preview: FX 'Lights Out' begins 2011 with a bang, fires on all cylinders

One of the more interesting teases of the last TCA's (Television Critics' Association) was the "Lights Out" panel featuring Holt McCallany and Warren Leight.

FX's latest feather in their cap is set in Bayonne, New Jersey, as the series "Lights Out" centers on retired heavyweight boxing champ Patrick “Lights” Leary, played by McCallany.

Not since the "Sopranos", "Deadwood," and "Sons of Anarchy" have I been so taken by the advanced copy (I am up to episode 10 now) of a new series.

Stacy Keach is cast a Holt's (Patrick "Lights" Leary) dad, and for me, Stacy is the secret weapon in the ensemble.  He is superb as the father to the three grown Leary kids, and his addition in this series was the producer's good fortune.

Elizabeth Marvel is Margaret Leary, the middle sister whose diner-owner dream is made real by the winnings of her brother Patrick when he was raking it in.

Then, there is the contender who nearly upstaged Patrick, brother Johnny, played by Pablo Schreiber.  Johnny is Patrick and his dad's money manager who got his MBA after a bid for Olympic boxing glory was felled by a torn retina. 

His glory days are still haunting him, as he oversees Leary's Gym, where Pops trains up-and-comers, and where Patrick, retired for five years to appease his wife, hangs his hat in the daytime.

"Lights" has heart and soul, and he loves his wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) and their three daughters. A fighter in every sense of the word, he is dogged by a relentless sports writer who is feeling the sting of attrition in his own profession.

Without giving away the series, Patrick finds out that his money is finite, and the large lifestyle has ballooned past his earnings.

The handwriting is on the wall for Lights; he needs a big payday despite his wife's wishes.  A strange, underworld angel kingpin with a tragic past named Hal Brennan (Bill Irwin) takes a shine to Lights, and becomes his benefactor and employer of sorts.

This series artfully depicts the real problems retired fighters face who have been supporting a small village with their pugilistic prizefight purses.  Financial difficulties force "Lights" to contemplate becoming a thug who brutally collects debts for his employer.  

These unsavory deals ease a bit of the short-term cash flow problems, but the breakout ass-kicking moment in the series sees Patrick pit against MMA legend Bas Rutten, cast as a leg breaker for a ruthless Chinese Shylock, Ernie Chen. 

The two men face each other in an off-the-radar money match, each fighting in their respective styles.  Rutten is the ex MMA champ who is challenged by the heavyweight boxing champion, Patrick "Lights" Leary.

Their fight was choreographed beautifully, and was one of several scenes that show how the cage fighting craze has usurped a great deal of classic boxing's thunder.  Rutten is a natural, and like a bad penny that makes for good TV, I hope to see him pop up later in the series.

Another performance of note is one that could have gone very cartoonish if poorly written and acted, but instead fills the series with riveting moments.

The shady promoter Barry K. Word wants to rematch his fighter Death Row with Lights, and is larger than life and played pitch perfect by Reg. E. Cathey.  Cathey's gaze is powerful up close in scene, just like Holt McCallany's steely green eyes.  

All these external forces who want to reap the windfalls of the rematch of the century between Lights and his old nemesis Richard "Death Row" Reynolds (Billy Brown), are ramped up in a believable pace and show all the backroom deals and politics on lesser fights, health fears and factors that make for these mega fights hyped on the PPV and the HBO's of the world.

Lights has to make a decision after a successful preliminary fight, to keep his dad or train with a wild card, Eddie Romeo, who rubs Johnny and the rest of the Learys (except for Theresa and the girls) the wrong way. Excellent scenes between Patrick and Eddie in the build up for the rematch.

Warren Leight is the executive producer and the showrunner. The first season will run for 13 episodes. 

A big crafts shout-out goes to DP Richard Rutkowski, who masterfully lenses the intricate shots and action sequences.  "Lights Out" is a series that has elements of classic films "Rocky," "Raging Bull," "The Cinderella Man" and even the "Sopranos", richly layered flavors and themes washed over a truly well-crafted, stand alone effort that makes the new TV season of 2011 one to savor.

Unless you despise boxing, plan on loving this smallscreen drama.

FX also brings back the brilliant "Justified" starring Timothy Olyphant and Walt Goggins on February 9.

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Further Reading on M&C

Bas Rutten Biography - - Bas Rutten Movies - Catherine McCormack Biography - - Catherine McCormack Movies -
Holt McCallany Biography - - Holt McCallany Movies - Stacy Keach Biography - - Stacy Keach Movies -