There's a bittersweet feeling that comes with watching this week's Lights Out, the first after the announcement of the show's cancellation. There are a few fickle viewers out there, I'm sure, who've thrown in the towel on the boxing drama as a result. I'm here to tell you that to do so would be a mistake.
"Sucker Punch," the penultimate episode of the series, reads exactly like a classic finishing episode. On the eve of his championship fight with Raymond "Death Row" Reynolds, Patrick "Lights" Leary's estranged mother rolls into town, wanting to make amends for her various and sundry mistakes. It's the kind of bad timing only TV could come up with. In the wrong hands, such a plot could be a recipe for a melodramatic train wreck. And there are a few things that are a little bit telegraphed: the delinquent parent charming her way back into the picture, the (perfectly understandable) bitterness amongst Lights' siblings, the one person who doesn't realize that this probably won't end well. We know that this probably won't end well, because we've seen this plot before.
Yet if Lights Out goes to a familiar playbook, it executes the plays very well. Holt McCallany deserves all the raves you've been hearing about him; it's impossible not to root for him, the perfect image of the guy who gets hit time and again but never stays down. I'll never complain about seeing more of Stacy Keach (though to me he'll always be Ken Titus from Titus), who could make the weakest script work. The two of them make a very believable father-son pair. I'm also impressed by the work of Pablo Schreiber as Lights' brother and manager Johnny, who is miles away from the usual "sort of clueless, vaguely hanger-on" type we might see in that role. All of the actors play their parts very well, and get the most out of the script. I don't mind if the plot is familiar, as long as there's something worth watching, and the acting here is worth watching. The only one I quibble with is the actress who plays Lights' estranged mother May (apologies as I didn't recognize her) - even with whatever the character has been through, she looks in particularly ill health, and her wailing in one scene got on my nerves very quickly.
I'm not a boxing fan - in fact, I actually have a great dislike of the sport - so the boxing parts of the episode didn't interest me that much at all. But I'm of the opinion that Lights Out is about boxing about as much as Sports Night was about sports; yes, there's a huge component there, but the real point is about the characters and their lives within that arena. Who hasn't felt like Lights at some point in our lives, battered and frustrated, wondering if things are going to improve or take a further nosedive? He's physically taking the punches we've all taken metaphorically. That's what makes this show work for me. I don't care about the actual championship bout, but I know what it's like to fight for something, and I certainly know what it's like to get roughed up for it. While the boxing content might disinterest those who aren't fans of the sport, if you're looking for a good, solid hour of character development, you ought to check this show out. It might be ending soon, but that doesn't mean it can't tell a great conclusion.
"Sucker Punch" airs tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.