Film and TV

Heels Focuses on One Family in the Glory Days of Small Town Wrestling

Wrestling played out in good guy, bad guy terms.
Wrestling played out in good guy, bad guy terms. Screenshot
Professional wrestling is a production. It’s a show with character arcs and a narrative. “Fake” is what most people would classify it as if that’s some profound revelation. It is “fake,” but to its fans, it’s extremely powerful, and it’s all thanks to the people putting on the show, the characters they create, and the drama surrounding large adult men throwing their bodies against each other.

Starz’s new drama Heels is a love letter to wrestling. It drops you into the depths of the game, throwing wrestling terminology and ideas around that can be a bit much and honestly overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with the sport, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is a gritty, ground-level, genuine portrayal of something that the show’s creators are incredibly fond of for better and sometimes worse.

Heels follows the sons of the Spade family, Jack, and Ace, who come from a long lineage of wrestlers who have all come from their hometown of Duffy, Georgia. Duffy is basically a wrestling town like Texas is a football state. Everything in the town shuts down for the main event every week, and the Spade family has run the show for decades.

Jack (Steve Amell) is the elder brother who was given the responsibility of running the family business after his father’s death. He writes the scripts, controls the narrative trying to build the Duffy Wrestling League into something that can grow beyond what it has always been: a town theater that doesn't make money. Ace (Alexander Ludwig) is the immature younger brother. He is full of himself like someone who was a failed star high school quarterback would be like. He has the potential to be a huge draw in a bigger wrestling promotion, and the crowd loves him.

Jack plays the Heel of the wrestling promotion, the ultimate villain of his own design. The Heel is the bad guy that breaks all the rules and generally causes mayhem inciting the crowd against him so that the Face, the hero, and crowd-pleaser, has a worthy foe. Jack and Ace in real life are pretty much the complete opposites of their in-ring performance, and their personalities and family drama is the central conflict of the series.

Ace is being recruited by former Duffy League great turned national sensation, Wild Bill. Wild Bill represents everything Ace wants, money, women, fame, but if the biggest star of the DWL leaves, the whole operation might fold. Jack has to find a way to keep his brother in Duffy so that he can elevate the league to something sustainable to support their family.

The Spade family and their problems are the meat of the drama. Both brothers have their share of resentment and bitter feelings, and as they bubble to the surface, everything is affected. Wrestling is intertwined in their lives and in every fabric of the show for better and worse. It can be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with wrestling and even individuals who have just a passing knowledge. The wrestling business is explored thoroughly and, at times, is pretty interesting. The explanations for every new idea about the wrestling business might just be an early episode problem, as the show seeks to convince the audience about the importance of what the characters are involved in and tries to make sure the audience knows what’s going on.

The show is a slow burn, gradually revealing the Spade family’s history and why they are in their present position. It's a tribute to a specific time of wrestling when small promotions like the DWL were important parts of certain communities with a history in pro wrestling, harkening back to a fantastical period where major wrestling promotions were fighting for TV ratings. The glory days are certainly in mind and probably give the show a nostalgic feel for wrestling enthusiasts.

Heels is trying to balance its fandom and love for the sport with a compelling family drama, and for the most part, it succeeds. It might be difficult for wrestling adverse people to get into the show initially, but its core is more than just wrestling. It’s just a matter of if either aspect of the series can hook you. Wrestling is fake but weirdly powerful in its ability to make grown men and women look on in wonder and shed tears at what amounts to a stage production. Heels is trying to do both.

Heels is available to watch on Starz.
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Contributor Jamil David is a native Houstonian and Texas Southern University alumnus. He is interested in TV, sports and pop culture. @JMLJMLD
Contact: Jamil David