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Heels Returns With Greater Action and Storytelling

The DWL isn’t the only thing that expands in Season 2.
  • Stephen Amell in Heels (Photo: Starz)
    Stephen Amell in Heels (Photo: Starz)

    Two years after its first season premiered, Heels is finally back for Season 2. Created by Michael Waldron, who's made a name for himself as a Marvel Studios screenwriter, Heels centers on brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade as they navigate their way through the world of local, independent professional wrestling in their small Georgia hometown, the fictional Duffy.

    The series opens a year after the Spade patriarch, "King" Tom Spade (David James Elliott), died by suicide, with the responsible, family man Jack (who would play the "heel"/villain in the DWL) taking over their struggling but historic family wrestling promotion, the Duffy Wrestling League (the DWL), in his wake. Having convinced reckless, callous younger brother Ace (the "face"/hero in the DWL) to finally join the family business after their father's passing, what follows is a clash of egos between two brothers who don’t particularly like each other and haven't quite processed their trauma.

    Heels Season 2 delves into that trauma, joining the past and present with plenty of flashbacks to explain just how and why Jack and Ace are as messed up as they are. That's part of the strength of this season: It really gets into just about everything, from the Spade family conflict, to what makes the brothers individually tick, to the ensemble's motivations (including Chris Bauer, doing amazing work as "Wild" Bill Hancock this season), to what wrestling actually looks like these days, both for present-day wrestlers and the old guard, who are either still holding on to glory or are on the convention circuit.

    One glaring thing about Heels — from a wrestling fan's perspective, at least — has been the fact that it's set in the present but feels like it desperately wants to take place in the '80s. In fact, with all the time that has passed between seasons, if showrunner Mike O'Malley had wanted, he could have probably made it so the show is just an '80s show now. But this season uses that old-school style to bridge the gap between the past and the present, as well to highlight the stark differences between what supposedly works now in the wrestling business and what has always worked in this business.

    The wrestling is even better in Season 2, blending the old- school style and the current style quite well. Netflix's GLOW featured less actual wrestling as it went on, possibly because wrestling bumps — which add authenticity to these shows — can take a toll on actors, something that the hiatuses between seasons would only make worse. Before Heels, Stephen Amell proved his love for professional wrestling by actually wrestling in promotions like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Ring of Honor (ROH), and what would become All Elite Wrestling (AEW). So it's no surprise to see him go full tilt in Heels' wrestling matches. But it's Kelli Berglund as Crystal, who "won" the DWL world title at the end of the Season 1 and continues to be the standout of the series, who puts on the best show of the season. (For wrestling fans, Crystal's in-ring ability and persona really comes across as a mix of Team Xtreme Lita and a pre-WWE Candice LeRae.)

    In its second season, Heels also figures out a way to address just how behind the times the DWL is in terms of a women's division, while also contributing to the intergender wrestling debate that’s been part of the wrestling world for the past few years. The increased focus on Crystal's story and success also allows for more of her dynamic with Willie (Mary McCormack), who is really struggling under the weight and pressure of the DWL's success this season. It would be so easy for Heels to discount its female characters, but they continue to thrive here, including Jack's wife, Staci (Alison Luff), who continues to be the understated powerhouse of the show, despite technically not being part of the in-ring action. Additional credit to O’Malley, who previously highlighted strong female characters when he created and ran Survivor's Remorse.

    The sex scenes and nudity, which were a turn-off for some viewers, have decreased drastically this season, but the use of "f*ck" has very much increased. It's a very good trade-off. But the wrestling centerpiece is the cross-promotional feud between the DWL and the rival promotion led by Charlie Gully (O'Malley), Florida Wrestling Dystopia (FWD). (Wrestling fans are going to get a kick out of all the wrestling cameos that round out the FWD roster this season.)

    Gully and FWD, along with DWL defector-turned-FWD champion Rooster (Allen Maldonado) truly pull Jack and the DWL out of the dark ages with this reluctant (on Jack's stubborn end) collaboration, harkening back to the real-life rivalry between WWE and the now defunct World Championship Wrestling (WCW) of the late '90s, and the more comparable indy storyline feuds between ROH and Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) of the aughts and Prestige Wrestling and Wrestling REVOLVER of today. The professional push and pull between the DWL and FWD lights a spark in Heels that was only a flicker in the first season.

    The first season of Heels ended with the DWL having a successful, albeit chaotic show at the South Georgia State Fair. This season picks up just a few moments after that show, and the DWL goes on to draw more attention than ever. Gully's antagonistic interest only increases, and there are people who want to get in on the DWL business, those who have been waiting to get paid by the DWL, and those who want to help continue to grow the DWL. The DWL grows considerably, and like any good show, Heels makes its world bigger, even while staying mostly within Duffy.

    That expansion provides interesting stories for its supporting cast, like Bobby Pin (Trey Tucker) and Diego Cottonmouth (Robby Ramos), who are now both series regulars, and even Ricky Rabies (Phil "CM Punk" Brooks), DWL sponsor Eddie Earl (Joel Murray), and Big Jim (Duke Davis Roberts), who all have much larger parts this season, while not underserving its major players. With its greater scope and more cohesive storytelling, Heels Season 2 ends in a way that demands Starz give it a Season 3.

    Heels premieres Friday, July 28 at 10:00 PM ET on Starz. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

    TOPICS: Heels, Starz, Alexander Ludwig, Chris Bauer, Kelli Berglund, Mary McCormack, Mike O'Malley, Stephen Amell, All Elite Wrestling, WWE