As Heels reviews come to light, you’re likely to hear that the Michael Waldron (Loki) drama is reminiscent of Friday Night Lights.
That’s not a bad comparison, but the sheer physicality needed from the Heels stars puts it on a different level than FNL.
The uniqueness of the sport is also of note. While professional wrestling has an abundance of rabid fans, this is the first drama to shed light on the lifestyle.
The real comparison is with Audience Network’s Kingdom, which focused on a family of MMA fighters, a gritty family drama that introduced an entirely new audience to MMA through its complex characters.
On Heels, Jack Spade (Stephen Amell) and his younger brother, Ace (Alexander Ludwig), are professional wrestlers trying to keep their father’s legacy alive.
While Kingdom showcased the paternal relationship between a father and his three sons, Heels has Jack and Ace reeling after the sudden death of their father.
Tom Spade (David James Elliott) was the star of the Duffy Wrestling League, a business close to his heart, and the Duffy town hero, beloved by all, packing people into seats at The Dome.
One of Duffy’s best-kept secrets was that Tom wasn’t the champion out of the ring that he was in it. A heroic Face in costume, out of it, he was a classic Heel, but while Heel’s can have a lot of fun with the role, his friends and family suffered in his wake. Now, they’re tasked with keeping the dream alive.
Heels, the show, finds Jack, a husband, father, and lawnmower salesman stepping into his father’s shoes, managing the DWL and writing its scripts, carrying on the tradition of creating stories that keep the audience enthralled, buying into the personas he creates for the league’s stars.
The drama created for the ring has nothing on real life. Jack has written himself as DWL’s biggest heel and reigning champion and Ace as its leading Face, even winning over Jack’s son, Thomas (Roxton Garcia), to root for him against Jack.
Once a regular family man supporting his wife, Staci (Alison Luff) and son, Jack struggles to find enough time to devote to them as he spends all of his free time (and some of his job and family time) on the DWL, hoping to thrust it beyond its small-town roots.
Already the little brother, Ace, stands in his brother and father’s shadow with Jack literally forecasting his every move, but it’s up to him as the Face to pack the seats, creating tension between him as the star and Jack as the storyteller and manager.
If Jack and Ace carry the weight of the storyline on their shoulders, Amell and Ludwig are up to the task.
Amell’s long-time love affair with wrestling makes this role seem like a dream come true, and he’s very comfortable in Jack’s skin. Since we see so much of it, that’s got to make it easier to swing the tiny costumes that bear all.
Ace is an emotional time bomb, at times reveling in love from the audience and at others, insecure and misguided, lashing out at those who love him. It’s a meaty role for Ludwig, and he handles Ace’s emotional pendulum beautifully.
Jack and Ace’s relationship sets the tone for Heels and then incorporates how their roles and actions affect everyone.
Staci bears the brunt of Jack’s absence from their home as she navigates household issues such as ridding the home of a squirrel in the attic to being Thomas’ go-to soccer coach, and learning to cut the grass on their substantial property.
Ace’s valet, Crystal (Kelli Berglund), has aspirations in the ring, but proving her value to achieve her dreams finds her putting up with Ace’s mood swings, which affect her professionally and personally as his on-again-off-again love interest.
Mary McCormack is Willie Day, Jack’s business partner and Tom Slade’s former valet. She manages every aspect of the business and produces every event.
Typical of many of McCormack’s roles, Willie is a take-no-nonsense character, but a distinct line between her professional and personal life is ripe for exploration.
Part of that distinction includes her former relationship with Wild Bill Hancock (Chris Bauer), an outrageous wrestler who made it to the big time and out of the ring as a wrestling promoter.
Bauer has had such a wide variety of roles, but Wild Bill’s persona is another level. He’s having so much fun that it’s infectious.
Super Bowl champion James Harrison Jr. plays a hulking wrestler, Apocalypse, while Allen Maldonado plays Rooster Robbins, a talented wrestler eager for a shot at the title but feeling the pain of working for a family-run organization.
Their friendship is indicative of the behind-the-scenes machinations at The Dome as Apocalypse urges Rooster to talk with Jack about his desires. Rooster’s reluctance to do it is mired in the real-world complications arising from working for a family-run business.
Showmanship is essential to Heels, and the actors aren’t just playing wrestlers on TV but are in the ring, bringing their characters to life. It’s a pretty impressive endeavor, and it all stems from Waldron’s love of wrestling as a child.
Showrunner Mike O’Malley guides the show from an actor’s perspective while taking a role on-screen, too, as Jack’s rival indie league wrestling promoter.
While I’ve only seen four episodes, it’s apparent that there is an unending supply of stories to unfold from Heels.
Like Friday Night Lights and Kingdom before it, Heels relies on its entire cast to make magic as the drama plays out in and out of the ring, and like professional wrestling, characters are at Heels’ heart, and from the onset, the Heels characters are worth the investment.
Heels premieres on Stars on Sunday, August 15. We’ll be reviewing the series here and will have interviews with the cast leading into the premiere.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.
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