Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one!
Every face needs a heel. This is the central tenant of Starz’s buzzy new drama Heels, which premiered on Sunday, August 15, about a wrestling family in small-town Georgia trying to keep their father’s league alive. In professional wrestling a “face” is the hero the crowd is supposed to root for, while the “heel” is the villain who’s there to make the face look good. “Make them love you, or make them loooove hating you,” the wrestlers crow in one scene. Here, Stephen Amell’s (Arrow) Jack Spade is a heel inside the ring, but outside, he’s our protagonist.
While arrogant younger brother Ace (Alexander Ludwig) is the Duffy Wrestling League’s fan-favorite wrestler, it’s Jack who shows real kindness and care for those around him as he struggles to run the league in the wake of their father’s suicide. This would never work if Amell wasn’t so extremely good at what he does. In another’s hands, the dialogue could’ve easily turned melodramatic and eye-roll worthy. Instead, with so much of the camera on him, Amell uses the script like a scalpel and seamlessly switches from frustrated brother, to floundering husband, to quietly inspirational leader, to tightly controlled anger when an old Duffy member comes to poach Ace.
In an hour, we become completely devoted to Jack and his mission, which is why it’s all the more shocking when he intentionally hurts his brother in the ring. It’s conflicting. Our hero is not who we expected him to be, and it’s still unclear why he did it – to stop Ace from leaving Duffy? In the end, it reveals an even more complex character than we thought.
Around Jack are supporting characters whose passion for wrestling shows through, so even if you’re not already a fan of the sport, you can view it through their eyes. There’s Big Jim (Duke Davis Roberts), who’s worked his way up in the league, but with a new baby on the way and a wife who disapproves of his side job, has to make the tough decision to step away. Another standout is Crystal (Kelli Berglund), a valet (someone, often an attractive woman, who accompanies and introduces a specific wrestler) who wants to be a wrestler, but finds herself often dismissed by those in charge. Her rise is likely to be a fascinating arc as she champs at the bit to show everyone what she can do. Representing the kids who grow up coming to the matches is Jack’s son Thomas (Roxton Garcia), who truly looks up to his dad and what he does.
But even just the way the people of this small town get excited for new matches, and come to gather for autographs from the wrestlers, the camera lovingly lingering over all of it, helps to build out this world. At one point Jack glares at a couple of neighborhood kids when he notices them staring at him, and they run away gleefully squealing about their encounter with the villainous Jack Spade. Jack clearly takes so much joy in bringing these characters to life for people, and letting them escape for a little bit to the story he created.
As for Ace? We just have to assume he’s not as shallow and callous as he pretends to be. There are layers to Ace, and we want to see them all pulled back. It’s just one of many aspects of the show that is introduced in the premiere that we can’t wait to explore more.
Other observations we thought made this episode stand out:
- The show goes out of its way to explain why the role of a heel is so important in wrestling. Jack is clearly very proud of being a great one, and wears the crowd’s boos like a badge of honor.
- The scenes that Jack has with his wife Staci (Alison Luff) are a nice contrast, as the persona that Jack tries so hard to keep up in public slips, and we get to see how vulnerable he actually is.
- The costumes are amazing! No show about wrestling would be complete without them.