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Review: Lights Out – “Pilot” and Beyond

“Pilot” and Beyond

January 12th, 2011

The central contradiction in FX’s newest drama series, Light Out, is not uncommon in serial dramas. It is a show about the tension created during times of great stress, when individuals are forced to choose between the path which is “right” and that which allows them to keep their marriage, or pay off their debts, or survive another day. And yet, while the show wants us to empathize with Patrick “Lights” Leary and his decision to take the path of least resistance (and least blows to the head) and the forces threatening to pull him back in, the show is actually more like his younger brother. The show doesn’t really have the same sense of tension, the same pull in different directions: it knows what needs to be done, and lays a clear path which lacks much of the ambiguities which plague its central figure.

I don’t call this a “contradiction” to suggest that it undermines the series tremendously – Lights Out is a fine series, one which grows over the course of its first five episodes and eventually finds moments which do more than echo great drama series of the past decade. Those echoes are not without value, and with generally strong performances and some solid action the show does not come across as a blatant copy so much as a prestige pastiche (a pastige, if you prefer), but there always remains the sense that the show is following a decipherable logic. Characters fit into fairly small boxes, boxes we understand better than we would in an ideal situation, and the conclusions they come to are logical more in terms of pre-existing tropes than in terms of human behavior.

And yet, as I think the “Pilot” demonstrated quite nicely, there is value in treading over familiar ground so long as it still provides a certain thrill. While it may not always transcend its genre trappings, and has some down moments throughout its first five episodes, Lights Out is the kind of show that breeds appreciation if not necessarily fandom. I didn’t feel as if I needed to watch one more episode, but once I turned it on I didn’t start looking at the clock to see when it might be over. It doesn’t exactly pull you in but it doesn’t push you away either, and while that distance creates some of the resistance to the series you may see above, it also creates room to let the show sort of settle; it’s room that I’m hoping the series uses to its advantage in the remainder of its first season, as there’s plenty of potential to work with here.

[Spoilers for the Pilot, and some vague comments on subsequent episodes, to follow]

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Season Finale: Bored to Death – “Take a Dive”

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“Take a Dive”

November 8th, 2009

I was going to write about how it’s been a while since I’ve checked in with Bored to Death here at Cultural Learning before I realized that, in fact, I’ve never checked in on it at all. I watched the pilot and was intrigued if not overly engaged, and since that point I’ve sort of been watching the show off and on while following critics’ reactions to the series. So, instead of reaffirming previous statements about the show or potentially offering a different point of view, I need to start from the beginning.

I like this show, but I’m having trouble falling in love with it. There’s something about Ames’ style and the way the show is being organized that keeps us as an audience at a distance, which the pilot was indicative of: there were logical leaps and bounds that were simply never explained about why Jonathan would ever become a private detective. And while I’m aware that part of the show’s charm is how uncomfortable Jonathan can be in that environment, and that the randomness of some of the cases often gives the show a unique sort of tone, I wanted to be able to watch “Take a Dive” and completely buy into the character development it seemed to imply. This show is full of great actors and some very solid material, but there a few points in this finale where I questioned less this individual episode (which I really enjoyed) and more how, precisely, these kinds of developments haven’t taken place up to this point.

The show has sort of been meandering around the same themes for a while, and the finale was largely a vessel through which Jonathan, George and Ray all find some sense of purpose in their largely aimless existences. Because of the talent involved, this episode goes well, but I do wish that the investigation of that aimlessness had been a bit more even.

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