Itās always worthwhile when analyzing a pilot to consider how the series was pitched. The first episode of a show most closely resembles the development executivesā initial impression of what it is they have. In this case, "Lights Out," which premiered Tuesday on FX, is a show about a retired boxer forced back into the ring by financial strain.
But they probably went even more specific, calling it Rocky meets Breaking Bad. That sounds like a pretty good combination: hugely grossing film series having a baby with one of the most acclaimed series on television. How could that lose?
It couldnāt. Thatās why itās a pitch. But the execution is another matter altogether.
Like Rocky Balboa, weāve got an aging former champion strolling around a multi-million dollar house, mulling a return to the ring. Like Breaking Bad, weāve got health degeneration that leads to criminal behavior. But unlike both of those examples, we donāt care about any of it.
Itās not immediately noticeable as to why. The writing is sharp, but itās delivered as writing. The actors on this show seem to be getting the lines out as quickly as possible, kind of like an artistic game of hot-potato. That leaves an antiseptic, canned feeling with every ounce of bloody drama. Itās possible that weāve just seen these characters so many times already that nothing is a surprise anymore.
As for the boxing itself, its execution is a microcosm of the whole issue with the performance. There are some viciously accurate boxing movies out there, most notably The Fighter and The Hammer; in the former, Mark Wahlberg trained for years to make the fisticuffs look real, and in the latter, Adam Carolla brought real-life Golden Gloves experience to the ring. There are also some epically stylized boxing films, like Raging Bull and the āblocking-is-illegalā battles in the Rocky series. What Lights Out ends up with is a Balboa fight minus the camp, style masquerading as real life. The entire episode looks like a masquerade, a show trying to be HBO quality without the total impunity.
The scenes previewing the remainder of the season do paint a potentially interesting picture of a washed-up fighter trying to get back in, leaving the audience to wonder what troubles he may encounter on the way back. But very little in the first episode seeds any inspiration to find out.