Actor Stephen Amell has had more than a handful of crossovers with the world of professional wrestling. Back in 2015, he worked a program that led to teaming with Neville against Stardust and King Barrett at SummerSlam 2015, which earned him a Slammy Award for “Celebrity Moment of the Year”. Cody Rhodes also guest starred on Arrow, furthering their bond. Amell aligned himself with Bullet Club at Ring of Honor’s Survival of the Fittest in 2017, lost to Christopher Daniels at All in and joined Rhodes ringside for the latter’s match against MJF at AEW Revolution 2020.
His fandom of professional wrestling has now translated into his most recent show, Heels on Starz.
At face value, purely being wrestling fans, this should be a show for all of us. But after having watched the premiere, do I personally think it is worth checking out, or should you skip on it?
Preface Note: Opinions are always subjective. Even if someone likes 9/10 things you do, there are still things you disagree with. If you’re on the fence about watching a television show or a movie, never listen to critics or popular opinion and just give it a shot for yourself so you can make your own judgment call. However, if you’re looking for someone else’s point of view or another perspective, this is what this post is about.
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS BELOW
Keeping things as spoiler-free as possible, the show revolves around two brothers who are at the forefront of their father’s indie federation.
Stephen Amell’s Jack Spade is the booker of the territory and its heel champion who values his creative vision above everything else, including straining his relationships, even with his wife and son.
Alexander Ludwig plays Ace Spade—the top babyface and biggest draw who is feuding with his brother. Think a reversal of Owen Hart and Bret Hart as far as face/heel alignments go. While he’s the fan favorite, he clearly has a dark side to him that goes to show not every character is exactly who they portray.
Having only seen one episode, it’s not 100% clear what direction this will go, but the way it’s been laid out so far appears to be pretty straightforward: this is a show about the ups and downs of running a low-rent promotion, the struggles of balancing reality and what happens in the ring, the passion that drives people in the business for better or worse and the colorful tropes and archetype personalities you see in the world of professional wrestling.
This isn’t GLOW, nor is it Monday Night Raw. It’s more akin to a show about a band of musicians than a football team, too. If you couldn’t tell by the trailers, it is definitively a family drama.
The Pros and Cons
A lot of characters were packed into this first episode, but not many were fleshed out beyond some basic notes. That’s understandable, given there’s only so much you can put in an hour, but I feel as though enough was touched on that we can tell some positives and negatives to come.
At its core, the relationship between Jack and Ace should and in all likelihood will be the focus of the show, which will be its best asset. Sibling rivalries are easy stories to hook you in and there will undoubtedly be times they bond only to be split apart once more, even though we’ve yet to see much of them on the same page.
I’m a fan of Alison Luff’s Staci Spade (Jack’s wife). She’s a likable female lead who manages (or at least, so far) to avoid the trope of the “bitchy wife who just doesn’t get the protagonist’s passion project and serves to be a roadblock in his success until she gets on the same page” that many other shows and films go down. Granted, I do think that will be harped on, as she’s already proven herself the more responsible of the two for money concerns, but I’m hoping her character isn’t 24/7 telling Jack to go to church and to save money and doesn’t get a chance to have some fun of her own. Best case scenario, she stays a loving foil. Worst case scenario, she becomes a full-blown antagonist in essence due to poor writing.
The secondary female lead, Kelli Berglund’s Crystal, is great. She’s Ace’s valet and semi-girlfriend who is looking to make a bigger name for herself and get more respect, but is stuck filling the role of arm candy. Definite inspirations from women of previous eras like Miss Elizabeth mixed with some Kelly Kelly. She could be a lot of people’s favorite character, easily.
Many other characters don’t have much to them right now. I couldn’t even tell you Mary McCormack’s character was named Willie Day and she just felt like she was there to prove Jack doesn’t do this all on his own. Hopefully, she develops into something more.
The group of the boys in the ring are a fun enough bunch. I dig the idea that one is a Cuban who had a gimmick of an Italian and was transitioned to a luchador, as we all know that’s happened in the past with some Superstars.
Two characters are audience surrogates. One, a newcomer to the promotion, is there seemingly so uneducated viewers can get to see some of the in-ring specifications from a trainee’s perspective. He serves his purpose rather well, but it did seem a bit rushed.
The other, wrestler Big Jim Kitchen’s wife Melanie, was disappointingly written. For being the significant other to a wrestler, having to ask what kayfabe and other things are just felt like sloppy writing. It makes her character look like she’s not paid any attention to her husband’s side gig after likely years and that she knows less than anyone in her position should, even if they weren’t even interested in it.
I’m on the fence about the production. At times, it seems weak and rather low-rent. Then again, it’s Starz and not HBO, so what should you expect?
One thing I’m personally not digging is the heavy lean on the southern element. That’s entirely my own tastes, though. I’ve never been big on the rasslin’ side of this business and “good ol’ southern charm” in any fashion to begin with, so more of those aspects aren’t able to resonate with me. However, I get why it’s set there, because it accentuates more of the urge to “go up north” and to escape the small city woes.
- At one point, video is shown of TNA (specifically Samoa Joe vs. Abyss) that is meant to be another rival federation called Florida Wrestling Dystopia, which is reimagined as a CZW / ECW style show.
- A still of Amell vs. Christopher Daniels is repurposed as a highlight from the career of “Jack Spade” instead.
- Vince McMahon is name-dropped, as are WCW, Ric Flair vs. Sting and some other things.
See It or Skip It?
Overall, I say See It. If I’m being entirely honest, it’s not as strong of a pilot as I was hoping it would be and I can’t see myself being eager to watch the next episode every week like I do with other shows, but I’ll probably wait until the season is mostly over and binge it all in one shot. At the very least, I might wait until every other week and watch two at a time, unless the next two episodes really fall off. By episode three, a show should be able to fully hook you.