A review of tonight’s “Lights Out” coming up just as soon as I promise you I’ll never date a reporter…
“It’s this profile of yours. Makes some people want to test you.” -Brennan
If the “Lights Out” pilot was playing within the familiar tropes of boxing movies, then “Cakewalk” was an example of a different kind of familiar entertainment: episode two of an edgy cable drama, in which our anti-hero has to limit his exposure after being involved in a shocking act of violence in the pilot.
Not every cable show falls into this territory, but enough do that if you’ve seen, say, “The Shield” or “Breaking Bad,” then a lot of the beats of “Cakewalk” – particularly the ways in which Lights’ attempt to avoid trouble for breaking the dentist’s arm winds up only digging him into a different problem – would inspire a bit of deja vu.
But as with the pilot, I thought Warren Leight and company – who got to make entirely their own show this time, as opposed to Frankensteining together two different writers’ visions – did a fine job of executing those familiar beats.
In particular, I loved the casting of Bill Irwin as the shady Hal Brennan, who seems polite and charming but is also surely connected to the murder of the baker at episode’s end. In our interview, Leight talked about how in the original pilot, Brennan was a phantom, invented by Lights’ crooked manager so he could manipulate his fighter. And he noted that “Bill Irwin is much more interesting than a phantom.” So, so true.
“Cakewalk” also did some good work with Theresa. The problem with her at this point in the series is that she’s the main obstacle standing in the way of Lights getting back in the ring and fixing most of his financial problems. And no matter how good her intentions – nor how much extra we know about Lights, like the pugilistic dementia issue – we want to see the guy fight, and we also want to see him get a payday, and it’s a familiar and kind of annoying type. But here, even though she’s still defending her decision to retire him early, Theresa is also 100% on Lights’ side as soon as he’s in trouble with the law, barely hesitating before giving him a fake alibi. That kind of balance is going to be important, given her position on the show.
In addition to Brennan, “Cakewalk” also expanded the show’s universe by introducing Ben Shenkman as Lights’ childhood friend-turned-reporter, which allows Leight and company to comment on the sad state of the media. (“You think boxing’s gone bad? Try writing about boxing – for a newspaper.”) I always like Shenkman, and the ways in which boxing is and isn’t covered – and the way the public’s loss of interest in the sport allows promoters and managers to be more brazenly crooked than ever – is crucial to the story.
Finally, in case you missed the bad news last week, “Lights Out” had a very poor debut, pulling in about 1.5 million viewers, which was actually a little less than the “Terriers” premiere. Of course, what killed “Terriers” wasn’t just that it debuted badly, but that it kept dropping (and late in its run was averaging about a 500K). At press tour on Saturday, FX president John Landgraf (one of the honest men in the business) didn’t try to sugarcoat the numbers, but he also noted that “Sons of Anarchy” had a mediocre premiere and is now the channel’s highest-rated show. If “Lights Out” doesn’t slip – or, heaven help us, if its audience grows – then it might be okay. And either way, this ain’t a broadcast network. They’re going to air every episode of this season, on schedule. (And let me pre-empt the “I don’t want to get invested in a show that might not run for many seasons” thing with the same argument Fienberg and I made about “Terriers”: would you not read a good book, or see a good movie, just because there wasn’t going to be a sequel?)
What did everybody else think?