I watched all eight episodes of Heels in five days on Starz because it’s that damn good. Heels is a story about the men and women who chase their dreams in the world of small-town pro wrestling. Set in a close-knit Georgia community, it follows a family-owned wrestling promotion as two brothers, and rivals, war over their late father’s legacy. In the ring, somebody must play the good guy and somebody must play their nemesis, the heel. But in the real world, those characters can be hard to live up to — or hard to leave behind. Read on for my thoughts on this compelling new drama.
Heels is a fictional take on a fictional subject matter — go figure! When I first saw it promoted heavily on social media, I didn’t bother paying attention. I, frankly, had never watched anything on Starz, and a scripted TV show about pro wrestling didn’t pique my interest, despite being a massive fan of the industry my entire life. Well, that all changed this past Saturday. I was on Facebook and I saw a promoted post about the Heels’ season finale, and how I could sign up for a seven-day free trial. Because of the overwhelmingly positive comments from people on this post who were saying how spectacular the show is, I took the bait. I signed up for a free trial of Starz, and, as noted, I blew threw the entire debut season in five days.
So, what makes Heels so good? Well, I’m not a wrestler or a promoter, but I’m writing a book about IMPACT Wrestling and have several wrestlers and promoters as friends, and this show feels authentic to me. It treats the business with respect, while simultaneously addressing the commonly held criticisms by those who don’t understand it. Furthermore, the show is a story about family, friends, and all of the drama that plays out when it comes to those tumultuous relationships.
Mental health, self confidence, finding love, grieving the loss of a loved one — Heels has all of this and more. It’s a superbly crafted series about the human condition, and the wacky, wild world of pro wrestling. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Pro wrestling is bringing Shakespeare to the masses!” Heels is reflective of this with its characters, story arcs, and emotion — all of which are profoundly compelling and well executed.
Heels features licensed TNA Wrestling footage of Abyss, Samoa Joe, Raven, and others, which brought a smile to my face. It also has cameos by CM Punk and Mick Foley, both of whom are exceptional in their roles. This show is a love letter to wrestling fans that’s equally entertaining for those who are new to this unique art form that meets at the intersection of sports and entertainment.
The cast in this show is all top notch. Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig as Jack Spade and Ace Spade, respectively, are believable as brothers who, more often than not, don’t get along. Alison Luff, who plays Jack’s wife, is wonderful in her role, and she’s got a beautiful singing voice too. Mary McCormack, as Willie Day, Jack’s second in command, is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense character whose journey is intriguing. I also loved Kelli Berglund as the beautiful and talented Crystal Tyler. Two standouts in the cast include Chris Bauer as Wild Bill Hancock and Mike O’Malley as Charlie Gully — both are funny and flawed, with a dark edge. Seriously, this cast — and there are many more I’m leaving out — is tremendous. There isn’t a loser in the bunch. They are all winners.
The music in Heels fits the show like a glove. Jeff Cardoni’s restrained and minimalist score doesn’t get in the way or distract from what’s happening on screen. Rather, it enhances it. I especially enjoy the “Love In War” title theme, with its haunting vocals and gradually escalating intensity. It plays out like a wrestling match, big finish and all.
Heels is my new favorite TV show because it far exceeded my expectations on every level. It’s worthy of a second season and many more after that. It’s fertile ground for extraordinary storytelling, and this show is already off to one hell of a start. It’ll make you think about the characters, as well as yourself and those you love. It’s an artistic achievement that should be watched and enjoyed by all, not just wrestling fans. I enthusiastically recommend getting in the ring with Heels on Starz. When the lights shine the brightest, this show meets the moment and delivers in spades.