We are here to begin our tag team coverage of Heels, 2 episodes at a time!
Daniel McMahon: I am coming at you from the ropes to review the premier of Heels on Starz! Heels is a show that follows the small town wrestling league the DWL as tensions rise as their wrestling company seems to be falling apart before their eyes.
Now I have to say, I am new to wrestling. I only started watching a year ago when we did an episode of our podcast on AEW. So I had to call in my wrestling guru tag team partner, Charlie Davis, to help review if this show is good for big time wrestling fans, new audiences, or does it turn heel and is just outright terrible? Climb in the ring with us to go three rounds to see if Heels has what it takes.
Charlie: Thank you so much for inviting me, Dan! I perhaps know TOO much about wrestling as it’s pretty much consumed a lot of my life over the last year and a half but I am certainly not complaining. I heard rumblings of this show before it was announced, but all I knew of it was that Stephen Amell of Arrow fame was starring in it. Fun fact! The last time I went to a wrestling show which was AEW’s Revolution in 2020, Stephen Amell was actually at the show. He also had some cameo spots on Being The Elite and Cody Rhodes was on an episode of Arrow. Not sure which one, but I know he was. Amell seems to LOVE wrestling so I’m not surprised he’d want to do some sort of predictive drama about it. I’m excited to dive in!
Brief Summary of the Show
Charlie: Two brothers who are at odds with each other try to hold a small town wrestling legacy. One wants to leave for the bright lights of fame at a higher level and the other wants to invest in the same legacy their father built.
Does it capture the feeling of wrestling?
Charlie: If I am being honest, this really had me at moment one. The feel of the indie wrestling venue. It really sucked me in without even having to do much because it nailed it right away. I know enough about wrestling from being a lifelong fan (albeit with a few breaks) to know what you want your series to feel like. To know what you have to nail about the complex nature of wrestling and its strange and wonderful relationship with what is real life and what isn’t. Heels gets that and it does it in the most soapy way possible which is also what wrestling is at its best. Highly emotional stories that play out in and out of the ring. Anyone that tells you otherwise maybe doesn’t even really realize what wrestling is.
Dan: The thing I focus on in wrestling isn’t the matches itself but the narratives they are trying to weave. I think the show captures that framework extremely well. It encapsulates the feeling of wrestling by showing these wrestlers trying to sell their stories. These actors are playing characters who are also playing characters in a way. They have to fit into the archetypes that wrestling is known for like heels, faces, and all that. The feeling of wrestling to me is that tension you can feel in the ring when there has been a story built up between two characters. The first few episodes build those stories inside the ring and outside in their everyday lives.
Charlie: And that’s the beauty of it. I think bringing people in that actually have lived in the wrestling world and have been soaked in it was a real boon here. I think maybe the trained eye wouldn’t be able to tell right away if things didn’t match up, but people can always tell when you are phoning it in. Amell and company really nail the Southern small wrestling promotion feel that they are going for here that’s been informed by people like the Rhodes family and all of their other associates.
Can You Watch Without Being an Avid Fan of Wrestling?
Charlie: This right here is something I feel is a fantastic primer. Wrestling, much like it’s entertainment cousin, the comic book, can feel very tricky to get into because of all of the continuity that it seems like you have to know to dive in. While this is not always the case, it makes finding real and honest entry points hard to come by. What is needed first and foremost is a containing universe you can follow from point A to point B, something that a wrestling week almost can’t give you because of how fast the product moves sometimes. While this definitely has prestige drama draped all over it, the locker room aesthetic, the collection of wrestlers and the small town feel really do give this show the small southern town territory vibe even if it’s taking place in the here and now. That was maybe the thing that shocked me the most. How much of this feels like old territory wrestling when its setting is modern.
Dan: I think this is actually the perfect gateway into wrestling actually. It bridges the gap of people saying “its fake” and shows you why wrestling is real. It’s not about the moves and things actually hurting your opponent but getting someone so invested that they forget that a good amount of it isn’t meant to inflict pain on someone. It’s all an act and the show doesn’t shy away from that. But what it does do is show you how much hard work goes into every aspect of the showmanship. From stage antics, to ambiance, and everything in between. It gives me another level of appreciation for what wrestling is meant to be. Instead of getting caught up on the whole is it fake debate, the show drives home that so much goes into it that it doesn’t matter. Even if your wrestling knowledge is mostly seeing the cool WWF stuff as a kid (and getting asked if I am related to one particular wrestling monster), this show will hold your attention with the drama and showmanship.
Performances In and Out of the Ring
Charlie: The two episodes that we indulge in I thought were pretty different from each other. One a typical setup, the second really digging into what’s going on with the characters. If the first episode gives us wrestling as a framing device, the second is the one that actually delivers on the gravity of real life and the aftermath of something that feels huge in this small southern town. Alexander Ludwig who plays Ace has the emotional rage to pull off a lot of the issue that his character is struggling with. The green babyface who has a chip on his shoulder but is too naive to know what’s best for him, and for his character.
I’ve only ever watched a handful of episodes of Arrow, so I really haven’t been exposed to Stephen Amell outside of that and some of his one off appearances on some of the wrestling that I’ve watched, but in a surprise twist, I think he does really well in his role as Jack. The rather heartbroken older brother who seemingly has the weight of the world on his shoulders and a legacy to uphold. I see a lot of emotional nuance in his character acting here that I didn’t see in other places and I am glad he has something that seemingly he can really sink his teeth into. I ended up liking Jack more than Ace which surprised me, but I am excited to see where this one goes.
In other performances, I think all of the women kill it, and I LOVE Willie, but Kelli Berglund is really the star of the show here at least in the episodes that we watched. She is stuck as a valet in a pretty backward small town when she just wants to be a wrestler. I loved her and I hope that she gets to grow and progress as the series goes.
Dan: Episode 2 is where things click. The first episode, I was sort of on the ropes about everything about the show. But Alexander Ludwig who plays the one of the two lead characters delivers a pretty stellar performance in episode 2 as he grasps with some very heavy themes. I wasn’t expecting a wrestling show to deal with some mental health issues and even a little bit about faith but the performances are great.
Stephen Amell honestly is the reason I even started looking at wrestling and thinking “Maybe I would like that”. With Heels, he gets to show more of an emotional range and depth than he did in Arrow in my opinion. He’s a small town man burdened with the legacy of a father who isn’t around and with a legacy of a wrestling company that he has to keep alive. Amell brings the heat the entire premiere. There is a scene where two children see him and his look scares them away. This whole small town sees him as a heel. He sells that with pride.
The highlight of the first two episodes was Kelli Berglund who is a valet for Alexander’s character Ace but she wants to wrestle. Her performance is a highlight of the series. There is a particular scene in episode 2 where she shows her wrestling abilities that will make you want to stand up and cheer like you were watching real wrestling. Truly excited to see where her character goes and to see her grow through the series.
Heels is an emotional show that packs a punch with its fights and with its portrait of the indie wrestling scene. It’s worth your time to check out.
5/5 for approachability for fans new and old.
Wrestling Word Bank
As you are watching the show, you may hear some unfamiliar terms so we thought we’d provide you with definitions so you never feel out of the know!