Heels is the latest project in this growing trend of wrestling-centric shows and films, which are showcasing the compelling narratives that do or can exist within this unique physical art form. Starring TV superstars Stephen Amell (Arrow) and Alexander Ludwig (Vikings), Heels tells the story of a small-town wrestling promotion in Georgia called Duffy Wrestling League, which Jack Spade (Amell) now runs after taking over from his now-deceased father. However, Jack's life becomes increasingly difficult when his brother Ace (Ludwig), who is the promotions babyface (good guy), grows in popularity and engages in a battle with his brother both in the ring and out. Episode 1, appropriately titled “Kayfabe,” effectively lays the foundation for the series by bringing in all the bells and whistles of professional wrestling while establishing an engaging sibling rivalry.
What makes a show like this truly effective is when it can cater to loyal pro wrestling fans as well as non-wrestling fans, and Heels does this from the off-set. In an intelligent opening sequence, we witness Jack Spade wrestling. While we watch the choreographed action in the ring, the show cuts to shots of Spade writing out the match details as audiences then see his words come to life in the ring. Immediately, non-wrestling fans get a peek behind the curtain while simultaneously watching the wrestling match. In addition to that, Amell gives fans of wrestling a convincing in-ring sequence that includes notable famous moves, including the Chokeslam.
The opening also sets the table for the eventual collision of siblings, with Ace coming out to attack Jack, who is the heel (bad guy), and challenging him to a match. Their match provides the hook for this episode, and much like the WWE does every week, Heels then builds intrigue for the match, but it does so by instead turning its attention to the relatable events outside of the ring.
It doesn't take long before we see the differing ideologies of Jack and Ace, and one way this is intelligently explored is through the wrestling term kayfabe, which essentially means maintaining the illusion of what audiences see in the ring. So while Jack, the family man and struggling business owner, maintains his heelish ways by refusing to interact with his brother at a Church event, Ace doesn't quite follow suit. Ace's ego often gets the best of him, and whether he's pissing on a Church tree or insulting an innocent shopkeeper, he proves he's hardly the good guy in this show. However, the pair's differences reach a boiling point when Jack needs to write the story of their match while also dealing with the fact that his brother may be leaving the family promotion for the big leagues, successfully enhancing the battle of personal egos, family, and doing what's right for Duffy Wrestling League.
The relationship between these two brothers has great emotional depth, and as noted in the show, it once again proves that these sibling battles are evergreen tales that are always relevant and relatable. In addition to this engaging family feud, wrestling fans will appreciate the countless homage's to wrestling's history and how Heels essentially depicts the true tale of the struggles local wrestling territories had to endure in the ‘70s and ‘80s. From Amell's character discussing the iconic wrestling match between Ric Flair and Sting at the Great American Bash in 1990 or how his character represents the old promoters of yesteryear who were unwilling to accept new ideas, often due to their ego, there is so much effectively weaved into this episode for wrestling fans to appreciate.
The climax of Heels' debut episode is riveting and perfectly highlights how much professional wrestling can blur the lines of reality. Also, the climax again utilizes a familiar wrestling trick to shake up the narrative in the very first episode. Much like a great wrestling angle does, the ending sucks you in, so you desperately want to find out what's going to unfold between Jack and Ace in the ring, and more importantly, out of it.
The Starz wrestling show has an hour runtime, and there are times when this can feel a little long, and the show seems to be milking that anticipation for Jack vs. Ace. However, it's Heels' debut episode, so the show is attempting to establish its various characters and subplots, too. Overall, Heels opens with a bang and continues this welcome trend of projects respectfully utilising wrestling as a backdrop for great storytelling. In wrestling lingo, this show will undoubtedly get “over” with its viewers, and hopefully, it can keep it that way.
Heels, episode 1 premieres on Sunday, August 15 on StarzPlay.