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    Tuesday, August 24, 2021

    Smark TV: This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us


    It's Stan Sy tagging in again for a late edition of the Heels review here on Smark TV.

    I'm gonna start by comparing Heels to Superman and Lois, one of the newest shows in the Arrowverse—or the CWVerse, as its showrunners would tell you—and it's not just because Stephen Amell is the godfather of both universes. If you haven't watched an episode of Superman and Lois, I'd recommend you at least check out the one-and-a-half-hour pilot, which sets the table for that show beautifully well. It also establishes the show's strongest moments—when Clark and Lois are at their most human as parents who just want to do right by their children. Sure, there are the big superhero action sequences, but the real heart of the show is in the storytelling surrounding Clark and Lois' family life.

    In the same way, Heels is a drama about a wrestling family (who also happens to own a wrestling promotion). But a lot of the drama doesn't even come from what's going on in the ring. It comes from the family drama—and with it, the meta-narrative that bleeds into the wrestling of it all. The show's only two episodes in at this point, but they seem to have figured out that their storytelling excels when it's focused on what makes the Spade brothers tick as people, instead of the grandeur and spectacle of wrestling.

    That's what ultimately grounds the show and makes it relatable, even to viewers who may not be wrestling fans. Not everybody might understand the intricacies of creating a gimmick or drawing heat, but everybody can relate to central themes like the feeling of going nowhere as you're stuck in your small town—which was the focus of this week's episode.

    We already got glimpses of this from Ace in last week's pilot, where we saw his face light up at the idea of being scouted for a developmental contract—presumably with WWE. We learned this week that Ace definitely doesn't see a future in the DWL, and he most certainly doesn't want to stick around in Duffy, Georgia. But this week also gave us a peek into his history as a quarterback who peaked in high school and couldn't even make it to the collegiate level. In his real life, Ace is a deadbeat 20-something with no job and no future—he's a nobody. It's only when he's wrestling when he's actually somebody who matters.

    That's why Jack's decision at the end of the pilot hurt Ace so much. Ace saw that main event as his way out of Duffy. Meanwhile, this episode explains that Jack did it so he could keep Ace in the DWL because the latter is his biggest draw. While last week showed the dichotomy between Ace and Jack and how the face in the ring is the heel in real life and vice versa, this week showed how both brothers are more alike than they'd care to admit.

    Like Ace, Jack is also dissatisfied with his life in Duffy. He abhors his job as a lawn mower salesman, he's emotionally distant from his loving wife and son, and he pours all of his energies (and finances) into the DWL—even at the cost of resources his family actually needs. It shows that much like Ace, Jack hates his real life and is obsessed with keeping the DWL alive to the point of delusion because wrestling is the only place where his life has meaning and purpose.


    The Spade brothers' story so far is a sad one because they've taken the escapism of wrestling to an unhealthy level. Ace sees it as his way out of his small hometown, no matter how greatly the odds seem to be stacked against him. Jack is borderline delusional, thinking that his small-time promotion can grow to the level of a regional draw or that he—and by extension, the DWL wrestlers—can make a decent living off the industry even though they're just a small-time player in a small country town.

    Seeing this play out resonated with me because I've met these same characters in my own time in the local wrestling industry. I've spent many nights in my own thoughts wondering how some of the people I'd shared a locker room with could live with themselves when wrestling was all they had to their name. If you took wrestling away from them, they'd be like Ace Spade—irrelevant nobodies. I also know a couple of Jack Spades in my life—people who have sacrificed virtually everything for the sake of seeing their small promotion grow at the cost of everything else around them.

    If you're not a wrestling fan, this second episode still won't alienate you because of how it touched on all these relatable themes like wanting to move out of your small town so you can fulfill your potential, dealing with family dissent and trauma from alcoholic family members, being there (or not being there) for your family, among other things. Heels is a family show for adults because it digs into these uncomfortable realities we've all had to deal with. For those of us who've gotten close to the industry, it just digs in even deeper.

    Cheap Takes From the Cheap Seats

    • I loved Staci's B-story this week. She started off yearning for Jack to open up to her, spend time with their son, and fix things around the house. By the end of the episode, she took agency of everything by killing the squirrel herself (welp), and getting on their riding lawn mower with her own beer in cupholder. It built on that scene from the pilot where Jack insisted that Staci not work because his own pride wouldn't let him accept the fact that he's been failing to provide for his family. At least here, we see Staci taking back some of that agency from Jack because he's been dropping the ball at home.
    • I need more Crystal. The best moment from the show has to be her hitting that headscissors takedown outside the karaoke bar! We found out that her mom was abusive and an alcoholic. But who are the two kids jumping on the trampoline? Those have got to be her brothers, right? What else is there to know about her family background? Where does Crystal work? We saw her in a uniform and nametag at the hospital, so... at least she has a day job?
    • In many ways, Crystal's path also seemed to mirror that of the Spade brothers, at least in this episode. She wants much more for herself, too. She doesn't just want to be stuck in Duffy, where she can't even be seen as a real wrestler. In this case, her being a woman has led to the Jack and their mother acting dismissively towards her throughout the entire episode. I smell a redemption arc, and that headscissors takedown was a hell of a teaser.
    • We're two episodes in, and I have so many questions about Willie. What's the real nature of her relationship with the Spades? Why is she able to casually stroll into a diner for a coffee date with Charlie Gully? Will she get in Jack's ear and convince him to sell? Hell, is Jack actually willing to sell the Dome and just being all pabebe about it? So many questions!
    • Rooster's job at the karaoke bar and Jack's job at the lawn mower shop accurately depict how many of us in the wrestling industry need an actual day job to put food on the table. Unless you've got a full-time deal with a big promotion like WWE, AEW, or NJPW, the reality is that wrestling alone can't feed your family or pay the rent. Heels does a great job of making that clear for the viewers.
    • Speaking of Rooster, his scene at the hospital where he was arguing with The Apocalypse about not getting a push triggered some awful memories for me. Sadly, there are talents who will get upset over their spot on the card, even when you're just working for a small promotion. In a way, it makes sense. If you're the featured attraction, the likelihood of you getting scouted for the big time increases. But at the same time, politicking like that when you're in a small promotion like the DWL exposes you as a mark for yourself.
    • I mentioned how accurately Heels gets the business. They even snuck in a bit about local wrestling podcasts bagging on Jack Spade and the DWL. I love how they did it, and Jack's reaction was completely understandable. That hit me close to home, too, because I've said a lot of things on my podcast that I wish I could take back, especially when I realize how they've hurt the people who actually hurt them.
    Images from Heels and Starz


    *****

    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and the host of On Deck, as well as one of the hosts of The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match.
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    Item Reviewed: Smark TV: This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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