One of the best theme songs on television is the one for Starz’s Heels, which comes from Jeff Cardoni and the lead singer of Band of Horses, Ben Bridwell. It’s one of those theme songs that works on its own but also does a brilliant job of setting the tone for the series: It’s inspiring and hopeful, but also melancholy. And that’s Heels, a show about wrestling.
People say about Friday Night Lights that it’s a great show about football for people who don’t care about football, and the same can be said about Ted Lasso: An interest in soccer is not necessary. Heels is interesting in that it may be for people who aren’t interested in wrestling, but it also might make you interested in wrestling! I’m not going to start watching the WWE or anything, but I get why viewers might get attached. Is it fake? Sure! But then again, so is every television show. Wrestlers are actors who have writers providing dramatic storylines about heroes, villains, redemption, and love.
What’s great about Heels is that creator Michael Waldron and showrunner Mike O’Malley add an additional layer of stakes. Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig) is not just a hero, and his brother Jack Spade (Stephen Amell) is not just a heel; they’re the owners of a family wrestling business inherited from a father who was driven to suicide by that business. The Spades are trying to salvage the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL) and their father’s legacy while also supporting their families.
The other wrestlers come in with similar ambitions: They want to be famous wrestlers. Crystal Tyler (Kelli Berglund) wants to succeed in a sport dominated by men; Rooster Robbins (Allen Maldonado) wants to get out from under the shadow of the Spade brothers, and Wild Bill Hancock (Chris Bauer) is hoping for one last bit of glory in the wrestling league that both betrayed him and made him a star. Ace and Jack, meanwhile, have to deal with their own personal issues against the backdrop of their father’s death, their mother’s neglect, and a small-town wrestling league that depends on the Spade Brothers to support them. As always, however, it’s the women, Jack’s wife Staci (Alison Luff) and Willie Day (Mary McCormick), who do all the dirty work that allows the wrestling league to continue in spite of the men’s screw-ups.
It’s seriously worth mentioning that the wrestling storylines within the series are spectacular, in the ways that they reflect the real lives of the characters. I often ask myself how many relationship permutations could possibly exist, and I am often floored by the wrestling storylines that surface. But they are as successful in the series as they are because of the real lives of the characters who inhabit the wrestlers.
Amell is serviceable here — the Southern accent is half-assed, but at least it’s consistent. Ludwig’s Ace is fine, too; he’s a hero who has a huge fall from grace but finds ways to redeem himself in unexpected ways. Alison Luff is every bit this show’s Connie Britton/Tami Taylor, and I genuinely hope the series runs long enough for us to see her discover she’s got the wrestling bug, too.
But genuinely, it’s Chris Bauer and Mary McCormick who carry the show, not that it’s a heavy lift. They are so good as former lovers beaten down by decades of life. They’re not looking for fame or fortune, necessarily; just another taste of the high, to recapture the magic that has been robbed of them by both mistake and circumstance.
It is genuinely a terrific show that has only improved in its second season. I hope that Starz licenses it to a bigger streamer so that it can find an audience because it genuinely could be the network’s Ted Lasso. I’d love to talk about what an exceptional episode this week’s was, except that they all are, really, but I also know there aren’t enough viewers to sustain an episode discussion. Trust that it is good, and that Frank Sobotka is every bit as good in Heels as he was in The Wire. It’s great TV whether you like wrestling or not, but it also just might make you better appreciate the sport.