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“Lights Out” Updates.

Sorry I’ve been lagging on doing a week-by-week episode review, just been busy and it’s tough to focus on every second of the show and chronicle thoughts and opinions.

Oh, they’re there, I may just need to go the Roger Ebert route: sleep with Oprah and then view films and shows with a pencil and little notepad to scratch down my thoughts.

In that order.

So we’re now a number of episodes in (and if you’d like to get caught up and/or hop on the bandwagon, hulu has got your back) and and my feelings pretty much remain the same: actors are good, they obviously respect the material and take it seriously. I admit to still being a tad surprised by the amount of sex and swearing FX gets away with. There are still aching cliches here and there that bother me but that’s a given in anything boxing. The plotting and storyline are laying out nicely: in no rush, keeping enough twists and turns, character development and steps and mis steps.

Let me also add that as a die-hard boxing fan – we’re a rare breed but not a dying one as some would have you think – I can’t beg and choose: anything boxing related in main-stream media is a bonus.

So trust me, my critiques are few, thought out and (usually) forgiven.

So – spoilers alert (I’ve always wanted to write that!) – here’s where things stand…

Of course, Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany), our intrepid, aging, heavyweight-ex-champion protagonist, is returning to the ring. His financial burdens snowball from episode to episode. The pressure is mounting. Yes he still has the gym, classic car (a ’71 something-or-other I am slowly but surely falling for), mansion and the girls are all still enrolled in their pricey private schools.

It all culminates in a scene in which Leary and the Mrs. (Catherine McCormack) meet with a financial planner. The FP throws out all the usual options:  various bankruptcy filings (“not a chance”, Leary replies), discussing the usage of the kids’ college funds (“let’s not”, he says) and then, of course, culminating with “you know, many former athletes return to their sports”, and that’s where it’s Mrs. Leary’s time for a shoot-down.

Yes, while the whole broke-boxer thing is tired, I do like the way the show handles it: it’s a family, used to the good life, facing some very tough money burdens.

It’s not Leary checking his wife and kids into a homeless shelter, looking around at the conditions, clenching his fist to lest us know this will not stand, and the “Rocky” theme cues right on time (again, Sly, part V? Shame on you.).

McCallany also plays this all fairly well: Leary is no rocket-scientist, but at the same time isn’t some big, love able, overly sweet, dense pug/lug (ah, Sly, “Rocky II“? Sigh…).

He’s thoughtful, stubborn, maybe a bit arrogant (which, let it be said, you want in an athlete), pissed at the world, secretly bitter at some of the people closest to him, somewhat out of touch with reality, controlling, desperately in love with his kids and basically just wants to be left the hell alone do his thing, his way.

But scheming promoters, annoying f-up little brother/manager, borderline under-world bosses, snoopy reporters, protesting wife and middle-daughter, demanding father/trainer and concerned physicians just aren’t gonna let that happen.

At last check, he’s decided to fight again. To help convince his wife and family, he’s insisted it’s all a baby-steps type of deal: start training slowly, see how I feel, if things progress from there, select an opponent – which in boxing terms means give me a few good rounds, break a sweat, throw a few punches, give the crowd a show, but we both know you have no shot at beating me- and if that goes well, we’ll reconvene and go from there.

Sound good?

But this is Light’s world, and of course the problems begin right off the bat.

Blow #1? Wife Theresa isn’t fully on board and Leary comes home one night to find his bags packed. She explains that if he’s gonna do this, he should hole-up in a cheap motel, be alone so he can focus, just like the old days.

He agrees, but the looks they exchange say it all: maybe he’ll be welcome back, maybe he won’t.

Blow #2: Younger brother/manager Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) had earlier on sold Leary fight rights to the Don King-esque promoter, Barry Word (Reg E. Cathey). Johnny forgets to mention this to Leary, who does not take the news all that well, wanting nothing to do with the leach-like Word.

In the end, little bro is relieved of his managerial duties and told to steer clear, causing more stress on Leary’s conscience.

Schreiber is getting good in that role, perfect for a boxing-themed program: the more you see him, the more you want to punch him.

Blow #3: Like mother, like daughter. Middle-kid, the practical and studious Daniella (Ryann Shane) who earlier in the season had discovered searches for “pugilistic dementia” on dad’s laptop, isn’t loving the whole idea, either. And again, it’s on Leary’s mind.

Speaking of the kids, props out to Meredith Hanger, who portrays oldest daughter Ava. Ava’s a stunner, the oldest, goes to a high-end school, has been raised in wealth her entire life and is a teenager. In other words, a self-centered jerk. While she may genuinely love the old man, she’s made it clear more than once that her unwavering support for dad’s comeback lies in having her own car, college paid for and  the continuation of a cushy lifestyle.

Blow #4: Leary’s hand-picked comeback opponent, an old, fellow down on his luck pal, is “injured” in training. He was chosen for having “glass hands” as he had a history of breaking them in fights thereby lessening the threat of Leary being hurt.

But as it turns out, he was once promoted by Word who had recently released him. Therefore, Leary suspects, Word’s thugs had the fighters hands broken, ensuring that Leary wouldn’t make a cent without his involvement.

Leary confronts Word who passionately denies the accusations and, credit to the show, we’re left not exactly sure who is telling the truth.

And of course, Word is quick to offer an alternative opponent which brings us to,

Blow #5: Javier “El Diablo” Morales (Gavin Keith Umeh), a vicious, hard punching brawler, recently paroled for a rape conviction and who just happens to be under contract to Word.

Bing-bang-boom: Leary has an opponent not only capable of beating him but also fiercely desirous of doing so and is – sure enough – now under Word’s control.

Daughter Daniella: “EL DIABLO” dad??!! Ah, he’s no tomato can!

Blow #6: Yep, Theresa has changed the locks at the house.

Blow (literally and, well, literally) #7: The Leary’s middle-sister, Margaret (Elizabeth Marvel) intervenes on Johnny’s behalf. Lights remains steadfast that Johnny is o-u-t regarding all business, but eventually gives into a night out “just like the old days”.

Cut to a bar scene: Lights is in training and not drinking. Johnny is unemployed and pounding them down. They begin to bond for a moment over their respective fight careers when they are approached by a couple of hotties who recognize the ex heavyweight champion of the world.

Again, Leary is training, and still considers himself very married despite Theresa’s  cold shoulder. On the other hand, we’ve seen more than once throughout the series so far that Johnny has never met a skirt he didn’t want to get up (hence his own failed marriage).

Johnny and his girl disappear happily together, while Lights gently declines his paramour’s advances ad offers to drive the inebriated lady home.

On the drive home, Lights is temporarily blinded/distracted, they hit a tree and both end up in the emergency room. It turns out the woman is a prostitute – never mind a married one – and has a head wound that is, let’s say, suggestive. And Leary’s “friend”, high school classmate and now curious sports reporter Mike Fumosa (Ben Shenkman) is aware of it all.

It all leads to an awkward explanation to the further frustrated Theresa.

What was really behind the accident?

Blow #8: Leary’s first sparring session at his father’s (Stacy Keach – who from one voice-guy to another, still has the pipes) is crashed by Barry Word who is concerned over Light’s outside-the-ring activities, reminding him he is the “white knight” in the good guy/bad guy promotion of the Diablo fight.

Leary’s sparring partner, a young and eager upcoming heavyweight, recognizes Word and in an effort to impress the mega-promoter, goes hard at Leary.

Eventually, in a heated exchange, Lights takes a thumb to the eye (a very bad type of injury that can end careers: I’ve seen it happen, up close). His eye is injured, he has headaches, he’s seeing double but keeps it to himself as to not jeopardize the upcoming fight.

The last episode ends – very effectively – with Leary taping a small “x” on the heavy bag and then swinging the bag slowly back in fourth until the x comes into one, single focus.

And he starts punching.

And yes, in the background, looming, is “Death Row” Reynolds, the current champion who took Leary’s title in a controversial decision.

We at first have simply viewed him as a villain, but there have been hints – and I sincerely hope this is the direction his character takes – that while the inevitable result has them facing off in the ring again, that he somewhat becomes Leary’s ally.

That their savage fights together has born a mutual love and respect (see Ward vs Gatti trilogy) and that Reynolds, at 35, knows his own time is limited and would like to get out of the game with one last mega payday.

We’ll see.

One more.

Blow #9 concerns my favorite character in the series, “businessman” (and he may very well be that) Hal Brennan (Bill Irwin).

Brennan is the wealthy man who hired Leary in the season’s pilot to help “collect” a debt owed to him.

Again, all we know is that Brennan is Jersey businessman: he always dressed impeccably, well mannered and speaks with a smooth, calm yet authoritative manner.

There are heavy echoes here to my favorite “Soprano”: Johnny “Sack” Sacrimoni.

At first, Leary, desperate for cash, does the job for Brennan but afterwards wants nothing to do with him. But slowly, Brennan keeps ingratiating himself: like a fighter, he seems to be searching for the right opening.

He finds it in Leary’s disdain for Barry Word.

His finest scene thus far takes place in the small diner Leary purchased for sister Margaret to operate. He’s there alone with her, sipping coffee and chatting. The diner is of course adorned with “Lights” Leary memorabilia.

Margaret is guarded at first, but then Brennan, slowly and somewhat hesitantly, begins talking of a young son who passed away. How “Lights” Leary was the boy’s favorite fighter. How the son loved Leary’s fearless style. How he took the boy to many of  Leary’s bouts.

He then doesn’t so much choke and tear up as he  simply pauses, then apologizes for having a “moment”. Margaret smiles warmly and says it was nice to hear.

The beauty of it all? Did the “son” really exist? Did Brennan even ever hear of “Lights” Leary prior to him being offered by Johnny as a means to an end? Was this simply a master salesman at work? And now that Brennan knows who he is and what he could potentially be worth he’s his newest bff?

Leary comes in, sees Brennan, barks “what the hell are you doing here?”. Margaret scolds him for being rude to this poor soul who departed child worshipped her big, mean brother and then Brennan extends a hand towards a booth and says amicably, “have a seat, son”.

He then tells Leary how he wants to help him, how they can do it together without Barry Word.

Of course you can probably guess how that episode ends: Word’s man coming in the room, saying “we got company, Boss” and in comes Brennan.

He and Word smile and exchange warm handshakes.

It’s like the prime of “Melrose Place”: you wonder who exactly is screwing who.

Again, there’s been some cliched and/or goofy things: the eye injury, a fight breaks out at the Leary-Morales press conference that seems pretty forced (thouigh in the end, it was), Leary ends up in an octagon against a mixed martial artist to settle a bet Johnny made and couldn’t re pay.

I’m beginning to dislike Theresa’s character when I suppose I should be sympathizing with her and I guess Stacy Keach must be forgiven when he’s giving training advice in the gym and it sounds so stock.

Not everyone is a fight fan, I must remind myself.

They don’t want fight fans, they want a big audience, they want a great show.

So far, they are at the very least on the right path.

“Light Out” air Tuesday at 9pm on FX.

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