Comparisons to "The Fighter" are inevitable, but in many ways… (Eric Leibowitz / FX )
An aging fighter is chasing one more shot at greatness. His brother, once a promising fighter in his own right, is a liar and thief who can't be trusted. His family and his girl are at odds over what's best for him.
No, this isn't the story line for "The Fighter," the critically acclaimed David O. Russell feature film starring Mark Wahlberg as real-life boxer Micky Ward. It's the plot of "Lights Out," a new FX drama starring Holt McCallany as Patrick "Lights Out" Leary, a former heavyweight champion still haunted by the controversial decision that cost him his title five years ago.
Comparisons to "The Fighter" are inevitable, but in many ways "Lights Out" has more in common with "The Sopranos." Like James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, McCallany's Leary is stuck between two New Jersey worlds — the gritty Bayonne neighborhood of his youth and professional life and the cushy Far Hills mansion he lives in with his wife and three daughters. He drives a muscle car and dresses like an extra in a Bruce Springsteen video but at the same time makes breakfast for his girls and chauffeurs them to their fancy private school.
"This is very much a show about class," said executive producer Warren Leight. "Lights grows up pretty tough, and then he makes money. Is he really that comfortable in that big house?"
After losing his belt, a bitter Lights quits at his wife's behest. Now he's a stay-at-home dad making cheesy public appearances for pocket change and hanging out at the gym he bought for his trainer father ( Stacy Keach) while his wife, Theresa ( Catherine McCormack), finishes medical school. Lights is becoming increasingly aware that his brother Johnny ( Pablo Schreiber) is mismanaging his money. Oh, and he's also showing early signs of pugilistic dementia.
Lights keeps getting into scrapes with the law and has found himself entangled with a local gangster. A return to the ring is the only way he can get the IRS off his back and keep his family afloat.
McCallany, who brings a Mickey Rourke-like intensity to his portrayal of Lights, had dreamed of getting a boxing drama off the ground ever since he played legendary trainer Teddy Atlas in the 1995 HBO movie "Tyson." In between acting gigs, he tried to develop his own show about a trainer. When he pitched it to HBO he was told it was too close to a boxing drama that FX was developing and they suggested he try to get involved in that project instead.
"Maybe I should try to get struck by lightning walking down Sunset Boulevard," McCallany thought to himself. But he hustled over to FX and won over its president, John Landgraf, who pins the show's hopes squarely on McCallany. "Lights Out" won't work if viewers "don't like Holt's character," Landgraf said.
McCallany, who knows Wahlberg from when they appeared in "Three Kings," thinks the buzz around "The Fighter" will boost interest in "Lights Out."
"What are the chances? Mark tries for seven years to get his project off the ground, I happen to luck into the greatest part I could have ever hoped for, and they're coming out at the exact same moment," said McCallany. "I hope we that we will benefit from the fact that there is a great boxing movie."
For Leight, whose previous credits include executive producing HBO's "In Treatment," about a brooding therapist's struggles, writing for "Light's Out" provided a much-needed break from characters wrapped up in their own angst.
"Lights isn't constantly second guessing himself, he's not filled with constant self-examination.... It's nice to not have to write a neurotic lead," Leight said. Still, he said he has found similarities between the shows. Both are about "two people in a small space working it out."