Fans of the late FX series Terriers are still smarting over its too-soon cancellation, and with good reason. Though barely anyone watched the buddy P.I. show—its season-cum-series finale drew only 780,000 viewers, and that number was much higher than its weekly average—critics drooled over the series, and its central fan base was maniacally loyal.
The same thing is happening with Lights Out, FX's new guys-punching-each-other drama. Critics like it (including me, Mr. Hates Everything), but the ratings are approaching pathetic. The series opened with almost 1.5 million viewers, dropped to just under 1 million in its second round, and will probably see another drop when last night's cable ratings come out later today (unless the State of the Union address actually helped Lights Out, since other networks were airing repeats). By contrast, Justified opened with more than 4 million viewers and has steadied out at an average of 2 million viewers. [UPDATE: Tuesday's episode of Lights Out actually fared pretty well all things considered, with 819,000 total viewers and a 0.4 rating, which matched last week's tally. In it's third episode, Terriers had dropped down to a 0.2 rating and 568,000 viewers.]
Ugh. This is not good. Lights Out is quickly setting itself up to become a fantastic series. And given the success of FX's other bad-boy dramas Justified and Sons of Anarchy, I have no idea why Lights Out is struggling. Terriers' obsctacles were easier to identify: It was a hard show to sell, and it wasn't marketed correctly. Lights Out is about as simple a show to market as there is: A washed-up boxer decides to give it one more shot. It might not yet be time to start a Save-the-Show campaign, but it wouldn't hurt to start thinking of ideas for one (should we send bloody mouthguards to FX?).
Episode 3, "The Shot," was a fantastic display of what Lights Out is capable of. It was an hour of dense drama, with each swing packing some serious weight. The fight we're seeing Patrick "Lights" Leary (Holt McCallany) engage in now is harder to watch than any of those in which his face was being rearranged by some goon wearing boxing gloves. Instead of absorbing heavy body blows, he's crippled by a financial hole deep enough to make him consider taking shady muscle-man jobs, his mental health is worsening as boxer's dementia takes over, and his family is inching closer to discover his secrets.
The main attention-grabber of "The Shot" dealt with Patrick adopting a brash, young boxer named Omar as an understudy. Omar was facing the chance of a lifetime: a shot at a title. We all knew Omar's disrespect for the sport wouldn't allow him to win the fight, we knew he was going to get knocked out, and ultimately, he did. But the journey was handled with expert craftsmanship: We not only changed our minds and convinced ourselves that Omar might actually pull off a victory (silly us), but we came to root for the kid after Patrick humbled him into a blue-collar hero.
Omar may have taken the most active role in the episode, but it's Patrick who shined through. As the vice of bad decisions and unfortunate circumstances tightens around him, Patrick is transforming into an anti-hero. He's lying to his family and he's breaking arms for cash, but he's showing compassion and the willingness to do whatever he has to do to provide for his family. He's no longer the simple oaf with his back against the wall that we met in the pilot; now he's a complex character and the fire within him is shining through Holt McCallany's tortured eyes.
Lights Out may have started slow, but once it starts punching your gut, the combinations come in rapid succession 'til you're flat on your back.