Heels (2021) TV Series Review
WRESTLING is art. The high-octane sport has received fake stigma over the years due to matches being predetermined, but Michael Waldron's sleeper-hit of a series not only showcases the hyper physicality needed to withstand the everlasting effects of professional wresting both in and outside the ring, but proves that you don't need to love the sport to enjoy the spectacle.
Brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig) are the top stars of their late father's wrestling territory Duffy Wrestling League. The two siblings, despite both wanting to see the DWL succeed, want to take the League in differing directions; Jack wanting to stick to the status quo and Ace wanting to freshen things up with character changes and alignments. When a massive opportunity opens up to take the League national, Jack and Ace's true colours arise as their braggadocious in-ring personas begin to mirror their real ones, causing trouble for their loved-ones - and themselves.
A lifelong professional wresting fan and in-ring competitor, Amell's passion for the industry shines in this love-letter to southern wrestling and small-town promotions. His character of Jack Spade reflects many wrestlers past and present; a family man who wants to make the best booking decisions possible for his talent and business. Having the power to decide who wins and who loses doesn't come without consequence though, which is showcased through Ludwig's somber performance as Ace; the younger brother who continually feels undermined by his older sibling, a trait which is heavily shown throughout the series with Jack being the promotion's champion while Ace never has. This kind of simple, astute storytelling is showcased in each episode, particularly with how Heels effectively develops its side characters.
Conflict arises among the leading brothers, causing unforeseen consequences to those around them. Primary victims include Staci Spade (Alison Luff), Jack's loving wife who supports his decisions to begin, but as the show progresses, doubt clouds her mind as she learns nebulous truths about her lover, causing a ripple in their family that they fear cannot be patched up. Luff, while not given much to work with early on, further develops as the show moves forward and does a decent job at conveying newfound aspirations in her life aside from being a supportive wife.
Crystal (Kelli Berglund), Ace's on-and-off girlfriend and DWL talent, delivers a surprisingly-strong performance as a woman who yearns for more out of her repetitious life, wanting to step into the ring and become a wrestler; only being held back by Jack's tunnel vision. Her character grows into one of the best in the series, becoming more than just eye candy for the crowd as she deals with constant restraints and relationship disputes stemming from Ace's inferiority complex. And although he's only featured in fleeting flashbacks, Tom Spade (David James Elliott); deceased father of Jack and Ace, is another standout who is featured in the show's most impactful, somber and powerful moments. From fighting with Jack on the side of a highway over the DWL to stepping onto his porch and committing suicide without hesitation, his inclusion cemented the series as a theatrical tragedy necessary for the development of potential wrestling movies and shows in the future.
Familial conflict is the forefront of Heels, being put on display during the premiere episode, progressing and escalating in a leisurely manner until the finale which, despite not answering and resolving all relationships, leaves the wrestling series open for a second season; one that it more than deserves. The show may feel melodramatic at times due to the nature of its small-town Georgia setting, but Heels excels during its most critical moments, elevating the quality from a simple story of family to one of grief and narcissism that can resonate with even the most contented souls - wrestling fan or not.