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    Sunday, August 15, 2021

    Smark TV: Who's the Real Heel in Heels?

    I've been a fan of Stephen Amell's work since his spandex-wearing days on Arrow, and while I was sad to see him leave the so-called Arrowverse last year, I knew it was for the best because the man had to move on. Thankfully, I also knew he was about to work on Heels, which immediately got on my radar as soon as he'd announced it because anything mainstream that involves professional wrestling is definitely worth checking out in my book.

    It took some time—no thanks to you, COVID-19—but we're finally here. Heels has premiered on Starz, and I think we're in for a fun ride. While the show is a family drama at its core, expect some adult themes, cussing, and even nudity since Starz is a cable channel—and apparently all that shit's okay on American cable television, so yay. The season's pretty short at eight one-hour episodes, but its pilot packs enough of a punch to layout a lot of the show's major storylines.

    The show establishes early on a clear dichotomy between brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade. Older brother Jack plays the heel in the ring but is actually a responsible guy in real life who cares about the business, while Ace is the babyface in the ring whose real-life nature skews conceited and immature. The simple irony makes for great drama throughout the pilot because the brothers' conflicting personalities lead to the other subplots.

    Jack's obsessed with keeping the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL) relevant and profitable in their small hometown of Duffy, Georgia, because he inherited the business from his late father, who was also a pro wrestler. While that's happening, the DWL is getting buried in promos by a competing promoter named Charlie Gully (Mike O'Malley) called Florida Wrestling Dystopia. On top of all of that, Jack's trying to keep his own family afloat financially because his pride won't allow him to be okay with the idea of his wife Staci (Alison Luff) working to supplement their income. At the same time, he willfully spends on fog machines and GoPros to improve the DWL's production value.

    As the promoter and the company's champion, Jack's also dealing with Ace's attitude because the latter seems to understand the basics of the business—except for the fact that as a babyface, he has to keep presenting himself as a good guy outside the ring, like when he's in town. While Jack may not express it with his words, Amell does a great job communicating his frustration and jealousy towards Ace, who appears to be getting a look from former DWL mainstay and current pro wrestling scout Wild Bill Hancock (Chris Bauer). 

    What I love about this story is how it touches on so many real things for both wrestling fans and non-fans: the struggle to keep your small business alive, fighting to preserve your family's legacy, the desire to go out on your own and make a name for yourself, having to choose your own dreams versus those of your family's, and even jealousy among siblings. Wild Bill's introduction symbolizes both the good and the bad of the higher levels of wrestling stardom. In him, Ace sees an opportunity to make it to the big time (read: WWE), get rich, and get exposure on a national level. But their private interactions also show a shady side to Ace—and the big leagues, by association—as he gives the younger Spade some painkillers right before his main event match in the pilot's climax.

    Some smaller stories caught my attention, too, like Jack's business partner Willie Day (Mary McCormack) and where she fits into the DWL's fate, the other wrestlers trying to figure out their characters and place on the card, and the arc of Ace's valet/love interest Crystal (Kelli Berglund). This last one is fascinating because she's presented as a girl who seems to know and love wrestling but is relegated to being a valet just because she's a woman—something Willie, a fellow woman—has no problem doing. Given the emergence of last year's #SpeakingOut movement, I'd like to see how the show handles Crystal's story, especially since it's layered with so many real-world elements that women in wrestling will definitely relate to.

    Heels isn't going to be intimidating nor alienating to non-fans of wrestling because the show smoothly introduces the industry's basic concept and jargon throughout the dialogue. It also helps that the cast deftly maneuvers through the story with the right balance of subtlety and overt character work. The plot and subplots are generally easy to track throughout the first hour, and it's inherently a family drama, making it universally relatable. In fact, the only real gripe I have with the show is how Stephen Amell's country accent comes and goes as it pleases.

    The show looks promising overall, and I can't wait for next Sunday when we get another fix. It felt great getting lost in the world of a fictional family's struggling wrestling promotion because seeing the wrestlers warm-up and prepare for a show or interact with fans reminded me of my own experiences of doing pretty much the same thing on Sundays. Those days seem so long ago that Heels lets me wistfully look back on them through the lens of the Spade family's story. I'm hoping this one has a more cathartic and satisfying ending than mine did.

    Episode Grade: A

    Cheap Takes From the Cheap Seats

    • Jack may have a great mind for nuance and storytelling, but he's also obviously clouded by his jealousy towards his brother. Everyone but him seems to see that making Ace the champion is the right booking call.
    • Was the wrestling footage from Florida Wrestling Dystopia promo from peak TNA???
    • Diego Cottonmouth is about to become my new favorite professional wrestler. I can feel it.
    • I can't believe it: another independent promotion with a guy who wrestles as "The Apocalypse!"
    • The DWL must have some money if they're able to afford to have their own warehouse/events place! Plus, they get to hold weekly shows! WEEKLY SHOWS!
    • And why are people allowed to throw shit into the ring? That's the type of shit that could start the next Malice at the Palace!
    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: Who's the Real Heel in Heels? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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