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Is 'Heels' Worth Binge-Watching After Its Big Season 1 Finale?

Heels Jack Spade Stephen Ammel Ace Spade Alexander Ludwig Starz
Starz

Starz’s wrestling drama “Heels” reached its Season 1 finale tonight, and if you are wondering if you should be trying to catch up, get ready for a verdict. The series chronicles the many lows and seldom highs of the Spade brothers. The older and younger brother’s dynamic is fueled by a long-simmering sibling rivalry in a story of acknowledged biblical proportions.

There will no spoilers for the Season 1 finale here. This review of “Heels” covers the show without giving away any plot details. That said, there will be coverage of the Season 1 ending later, so stay tuned for that. For now, though, let us head back to Duffy and review the eight-episode season of this gritty Starz series.

At the center of the drama is the family’s wrestling dynasty, a league founded by their father and now run by his elder son, Jack (Stephen Amell of “Arrow” and “Heartland” fame). To which, Jack’s younger brother Ace (Alexander Ludwig, “Vikings”) chafes under his brother’s almost-obsessive grip on the league, and “Heels” runs with the fraught dynamic.

A breakout star, Ace is ready to leave Duffy, Georgia, in his rearview mirror for the big time, and when he learns he is getting scouted, he seizes his shot. What happens in the Season 1 premiere comes to shape everything that happens next, and “Heels” leans into the drama full-tilt. For those wondering whether to binge it, the answer comes down to what you like to watch.

Heels Alexander Ludwig Ace Spade Stephen Amell Jack Spade Starz
Starz

Football And Wrestling, Unite?

Fans of “Friday Night Lights” will undoubtedly find themselves pulled into the center of the ring. Like the football games played by the characters in the groundbreaking NBC series, a wrestling event takes place every week. The tension leading up to “game day” is where a lot of the story for “Heels” lies without accounting for everything.

The wrestling events are their own fireworks show. Along with its musical score, “Friday Night Lights” fans will recognize the big characters in the small town that help breathe a sense of authenticity into “Heels.” How real-life bleeds into the ring makes for interesting television in the same way that “Friday Night Lights” let the players’ drama walk onto the football field.

If you are looking for a show that tries to capture so much of the NBC series’ territory, “Heels” comes mighty close. Unfortunately, the lovable characters from “Friday Night Lights” are harder to find. The tagline for “Heels” talks up brother versus brother and hero versus villain dynamics. The thing is that neither brother is a hero. They are both villains—one in real life and the other in the ring.

Heels Ace Spade Alexander Ludwig Starz
Starz

Villain Versus Villain

When it begins, Ace plays a “face”/the hero in the wrestling ring and a villain out of it, despite what most of his family thinks. Jack is the only one who sees Ace clearly, yet his own wife takes Ace’s side. Throughout Season 1, Jack and Ace spar in and out of the wrestling ring. At stake are their respective career ambitions and their life-long dreams.

What propels “Heels” are the events of the Season 1 premiere. The episode matters more for the show than a typical pilot. In it, Jack takes actions that lead to irreparable consequences for Ace and everyone around them, following an emotionally fueled altercation. No one comes out unscathed, and the carnage is something Season 1 works to gently unpack.

Both brothers are in different spots in their lives. Jack is a family man, married for nearly a decade to the delightful Staci (Alison Luff, “New Amsterdam”). The couple shares a kind-hearted eight-year-old son, who oddly prefers his uncle over his father. “Heels” explains the dynamic as being caused by Ace’s ring status as a “face” and his father as a “heel,” although it seems to run much deeper.

Heels Alexander Ludwig Ace Spade Stephen Amell Jack Spade Alice Barrett Mitchell Carol Spade Alison Luff Staci Spade Roxton Garcia Thomas Spade Starz
Starz

Dysfunctional Family Drama

At the heart of the Spade, family drama is the rivalry between the brothers and their desire to control the wrestling league. Jack inherited it after his dad’s death, despite not being his dad’s favorite son. (Yes, Tom Spade had one, and so does his wife.) It is clear that Ace is everyone’s favorite except the young woman that he disturbingly insults after trying to steal from her family’s store.

“Heels” does not explain how the word is not out about Ace being a horrible human being and, therefore, an unconvincing hero in the ring. Jack talks about living a life outside of the ring that mirrors the one in it, yet his younger brother constantly acts out as a real-world villain. Hence, Jack’s desire for Ace to turn “heel” (villain) is a natural step anyone would agree makes sense.

Unfortunately for Jack, his business partner Willie (Mary McCormack) is the only person who backs him up. Otherwise, his wife and mother constantly take Ace’s side. But, family dynamics aside, there is an interesting supporting arc with valet and aspiring wrestler Crystal (Kelli Berglund). Intelligent and ambitious, Crystal has genuine feelings for Ace and a desire for him to lift her out of her spot in life.

Heels Apocalypse James Harrison Crystal Tyler Kelli Berglund Ace Spade Alexander Ludwig Wild Bill Hancock Chris Bauer Bobby Pin Trey Tucker Diego Cottonmouth Robby Ramos Big Jim Kitchen Duke Davis Roberts Starz
Starz

The Supporting Stories Are Stars

Crystal and Bobby Pin’s stories echo with tremendous integrity, whereas “Heels” also engages in colorful storytelling with Wild Bill Hancock. The veteran wrestler comes to Duffy hoping to recruit Ace. Wild Bill has a deep history with the Spades. He worked in the Duffy Wrestling League until leaving to go “up north” to become a star. As his name suggests, Bill is wild, and that is putting it mildly.

Playing Wild Bill is “True Blood” standout Chris Bauer, who taps into the living fragment of Bill’s underlying humanity that keeps viewers hoping he can find redemption. When he is on the screen with the Spade brothers, he ups the ante of “Heels,” offering the brothers a character they can honestly struggle against instead of themselves.

Speaking of that struggle, Ace is not the only one upset by Jack’s storytelling. Yes, “Heels” admits that wrestling is scripted while acknowledging wrestlers sometimes go off-script. Upset by that script is Rooster (Allen Maldonado), who has put in years with the DWL and still not had a shot at the title belt. His brewing frustrations pave the way for another arc that “Heels” takes its time leaning into entirely.

Heels Alexander Ludwig Ace Spade Kelli Berglund Crystal Tyler Starz
Starz

Performance Highlights

A terrific ensemble powers “Heels.” Alexander Ludwig’s performance as Ace salvages what should be an irredeemable character with a praise-worthy turn that proves his versatility as an actor. There is none of his “Vikings” character, Bjorn, to see here. Ludwig’s southern accent passes the mustard (and ketchup) test. As he sells, there is a heart somewhere deep inside Ace. A task that few actors could manage.

Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig both make for convincing brothers, and it is nice to see Amell getting a chance to play someone besides Oliver Queen. It is tough to say that you are only as good as your villain when the show has two playing the role of the main protagonists. So, you can only imagine how rough Wild Bill is.

Chris Bauer breathes life into what others would play as a caricature with a brave amount of commitment. Without Bauer’s all-out performance as Wild Bill, it has no razzle-dazzle. “Heels” needs someone to dig its heels into, and Bauer’s Bill is the perfect foil. So many unexpected moments unfurl for Wild Bill, and Bauer sinks his teeth into them as if they were a juicy steak.

Heels Alison Luff Staci Spade Roxton Garcia Thomas Spade Erica Pappas Melanie Kitchen Starz
Starz

Should You Binge-Watch “Heels”?

The short answer is “yes.” A worthy showcase for Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig, both actors, to get a chance to shake off their well-known TV characters. “Heels” has the rural authenticity of “Friday Night Lights” and the family disfunction of “Yellowstone” all rolled into one. If you have not had a chance to tune in weekly up to this point, you are now able to watch all eight episodes of Season 1.

It is up to viewers to decide how they want to watch it. They can binge-watch it or stagger it out. “Yellowstone” has provided proof that weekly viewing is not dead over its first three seasons. To its credit, with Wild Bill’s storyline and others, it does feel like “Heels” is walking into a lot of existing history instead of inventing it as it goes.

A sense of pre-existing life is a rich resource for any series, and “Heels” has it in spades. (wink) It is a giant onion that could take multiple seasons to unpeel. The layers it manages to take off in Season 1 indicate that it has a lot of potential stories ready to go more than a few rounds in the ring.

Now that the Season 1 finale of “Heels” has aired on Starz, you will need to stay tuned to learn if it has gotten renewed for Season 2. The ending of Season 1 certainly left the door open to more. You can currently watch the first three episodes for free via the Starz app.

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