As a kid who grew up in the early 2000s when the attitude era of “WWE” (World Wrestling Entertainment) was in full force, it was safe to say wrestling was a literal part of me.
I mean, of course, everyone has a connection to the world of professional wrestling in some aspect. Many are fans. Others are second and third-generation wrestlers with the principle of talent coursing through their bloodstreams. However, the strange yet rewarding element of the squared circle is the undying passion of everyone involved.
However, one question always lingered in my mind. “How is wrestling determined, who wins, and the rich narratives. My childhood memories became stagnant, and I got tired of everything, and I put down the product.
This past Sunday I sat down and watched the pilot for “Heels,” a new experience from “Starz,” and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I was conflicted about this new drama starring Stephen Amell(Arrow), who was known and tight-cast for quite a while as Oliver Queen on the hit series “Arrow,” which ran for eight seasons on The CW.
My issues were about to be silenced by the ingenuity of a wrestling drama disguised as a series built upon the commentary of childhood dreams through the story of two brothers struggling to stay afloat under the current of remorse left behind by their father. One is holding onto the past. The other is trying to break free from the shackles of a tarnished legacy, thinking his potential is racing by and he’s meant for more.
I felt the hubris of these brothers diminish and decay into a budding rivalry that will take place in and out of the ring, leading to a potentially exciting and thrilling story progression. After watching the first episode, I felt I already grasped how the brothers would play out. With seven episodes left in the season, I was left longing to return to Duffy, Georgia, but I’ll have to wait till next Sunday after a satisfying yet jaw-dropping cliffhanger. Still, nothing is ever scripted or presented with wrestling. Hence, it’s exciting and essentially a live-action performance constantly being adapted based on crowd reaction.
One element worth praise and discussion is the screenplay. I enjoyed the balance of highlighting the town and giving us a small-time rustic unified feel. I understood how the families are connected and who knows and runs the promotion. The subtle notions of where the character fades and begins. The scenery is gorgeous and gives a sense of depth to the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL), a relic of a time long past.
It was great to see a new perspective of the wrestling pedigree and fabled mythos. I always thought every match was up to chance, but the illusion of a story wrapped behind the confines of a script was eye-opening. I enjoyed how writer Michael Waldron (“Loki”) conveys to the viewer the challenge of booking.
The magic of introducing a face” (good guy) knowing they have to be the crowd-pleaser. Essentially allow the audience to attach to the story. The face soaks it in believing they love the person. Now a “heel” (bad guy) has to tow the narrow line of tearing the fragile psychosis of the crowd but staying within restraint. By telling themselves, the crowd hates the character, not the person. However, it’s important to remember that both need to be in sync or real-life injuries occur.
I loved seeing my social perception in regards to the very foundation of professional wrestling be challenged. From seeing fans who ranged from young children staying up past a set bedtime to relishing the glory of witnessing heroes that were larger than life, the parents and other adults were singing along to the catchy entrances and laughing to the slap-stick writing.
I enjoyed seeing the sportsmanship and chemistry among the wrestlers in the ring and behind the curtain. For example, once the lights had settled and the bell rang, it was time for business, and you can’t break character even outside of the ring. It was a shimmering display of what the industry truly invokes into the mindset of whoever joins this lifestyle. The notion of wearing colorful costumes and ridiculous tights to make barely ends meet, but live out your dreams. It dawned on me that the DWL was an indie promotion or an Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), used as a training and minor league system for WWE and All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
It led to the brilliance of introducing a big-time veteran Wild Bill Hancock (Chris Bauer), who rose from the ranks of the DWL. Not only throws a wrench in the struggling foundation of this promotion, but he acts as a foil to the brothers going forward. He boasts that his career led him to broader horizons and immense wealth. From what I’ve seen so far, he is essentially the straw that will shatter the kinship between the two main characters Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig). Both are talented but long to fill the immortal boots of a legacy that some claim is untouchable, left behind by the spirit of their father.
Another element of this new series is the creative deep-lens of showing the raw reality of what wrestling contains. For example, ex-NFL football player James Harrison is a journeyman longing to achieve the next rung of the business but can’t let the excitement go even though his potential is long past. I saw a slice of the challenge female wrestlers or “Divas” are stricken with, and the immense pressure of when to pass the title, and the human pain of carrying the torch.
“Heels” is an excellent series because it has a little bit of everything for anyone who watches. I came for the action and tight-knit secrets of the wrestling industry that are usually locked behind closed doors.
Though the closer you invest into this little slice of simple story-telling. You see multiple plots and narratives under the guise of a few simple bits of exposition throughout the 63 min pilot leading to a tragic story about to unfold in the hallowed arenas of scripted matches and pure hatred.