On the outside, Heels appears to be about the larger-than-life personas these working pro wrestlers put into their craft; but at its core, it’s a show about community and the complicated interconnected relationships within it.
Set in small-town Georgia, Heels is a story of those who dedicate their lives to the world of pro wrestling while managing complicated interconnected relationships. Stephen Amell (Jack Spade) and Alexander Ludwig (Ace) star as The Duffy brothers who own and operate their late father’s wrestling promotion, Duffy Wrestling League. Because of the nature of the sport, the winner will be named the hero and the other, the “heel.” The irony is that the older brother, Jack, is a stand-up family man who does the majority of the work to keep the business afloat but plays the “bad guy” who gets booed when entering the ring. Meanwhile Ace, the real-life ‘bad boy’ gets into a fair amount of trouble yet is idolized by the crowd and gets to bask in its glory. The less biblical, modern-day Cain and Abel.
The first episode does a good job of setting up the focus on the internal struggle between Jack and Ace. However, sibling rivalry in the heart of a religious community isn’t the only underlying message. Heels is an intentionally emotionally close show with witty depictions of doing whatever it takes to “make it.” The drama has a Friday Night Lights feel with its own edge.
The cast also includes Alison Luff as Staci Spade, Jack’s strong southern wife who learns that she has to contend with the emotional stakes her in-laws have invested in their wrestling goals and the demands it puts on her family; Mary McCormack as Willie Day, Jack’s business partner and the logistical brains behind the local wrestling organization; Kelli Berglund as Crystal Tyler, Ace’s valet and love interest; Allen Maldonado as Rooster Robbins, one of the best wrestlers in the circuit who always has something to prove and always backs it up; two-time Super Bowl champion James Harrison as Apocalypse, a been-around-the-block journeyman wrestler who’s been at it for decades and has no illusions of fame or glory; and Chris Bauer as Wild Bill Hancock, a larger-than-life former wrestling star who is now a high-level pro wrestling scout. Along with Waldron, O’Malley and Segal, LBI Entertainment’s Julie Yorn (Hell or High Water, White Boy Rick, The Dirt.)
Written and created by Executive Producer Michael Waldron (“Loki,” the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) with Executive Producer Mike O’Malley (“Shameless,” “Survivor’s Remorse”) as showrunner. Peter Segal (Get Smart, 50 First Dates, Tommy Boy, “Shameless”), who directs several episodes, also serves as Executive Producer as well as Chistopher Donnelly and Patrick Walmsley.
“We just wanted to tell a story that was true to the crazy complicated history of wrestling and all the back stage drama that’s went on over the decades but also a story that’s very human and kind of a small town family drama. Something that would invite in folks who maybe don’t know anything about wrestling,” said Michael Waldron.
Good news is, you’ll enjoy this show whether you’re a wrestling fanatic or not. There’s plenty of hints throughout the dialogue for viewers to catch on without any complicated terminology. I had the opportunity to screen the first episode at the premiere on Wednesday and it definitely left me wanting more. The cast talked to The Knockturnal about the reality these wrestlers face when preparing to enter the ring. It sounds brutal, to say the least.
“I had absolutely no idea how very real it was… I mean obviously, some of it is fake but I thought all of it is fake… that’s not true,” said Bonnie Sommerville. “Like Stephen Amell broke his back the first week of rehearsals or broke a vertebrae… The stunt that you see them doing when they are flying through the air, I was there watching it. I was like ‘are you kidding? I thought everything was fake.’ It’s not.”
Apparently, the “kayfabe” can only go so far. In the first episode, we see that the scripts are written and planned so the outcome is predetermined. However, the stunts are still real and take a lot of athletic ability to perform.
Stephen Amell talked about his inspiration behind his complex character and the things he took away from the pros prior to filming.
“I loved the way Rick Flair was so charismatic that even if he was insulting to people, they still kind of liked it. Like Ravishing Rick Rude was a guy that I loved and a current guy Kevin Owens who shit talks his opponent and shit talks the crowd. He gets like really aggressive and in their face and I dig it,” said Amell. “I don’t know… I dig it. I like playing the bad guy a lot.”
But is he truly bad? We’ll have to continue to watch to find out.
Heels is currently available to stream on STARZ and is produced by Lionsgate TV for STARZ in association with Paramount Television Studios.