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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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