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Heels season 2 review: Starz's indie-wrestling show dials up the drama

This is the kind of small-town sports series—not unlike Friday Night Lights—that's built to last

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Kelli Berglund, Mary McCormack, and Trey Tucker in Heels.
Kelli Berglund, Mary McCormack, and Trey Tucker in Heels.
Photo: Starz

Some shows are just worth the wait. Nearly two years after wrapping up its freshman run, Heels, the Starz family drama about an indie professional wrestling league in rural Georgia, has stepped back into the ring with a long-awaited, much-improved second season (out July 28). Picking up in the dramatic aftermath of the headlining match at the Georgia State Fair, in which Duffy Wrestling League owner and wrestler Jack Spade (Stephen Amell) confessed to intentionally humiliating his younger brother Ace (Alexander Ludwig) in an earlier match to turn him into a heel, the eight-episode new season dials up the drama with the Spades seemingly more fractured than ever and the DWL under the ever-present threat of closing its doors amid financial troubles.

For the uninitiated (or those who need a refresher), it’s been a year since Jack and Ace’s father, Tom “King” Spade (David James Elliott), who could no longer face the reality that his life’s work was about to go up in flames, died by suicide. Having barred Ace from wrestling to encourage him to focus on football, Tom decided to bequeath his most prized possession to Jack, who seems largely unaware of the hornet’s nest of liabilities that he has inherited and the backroom deals that his old man and business partner Willie (Mary McCormack) made to keep the DWL running. The season premiere, “Ten-Bell Salute,” flashes back to the wake of Tom’s tragic passing and finds Jack and Ace, in stark contrast to where they find themselves in the present, agreeing to join forces to fulfill Tom’s original vision for the DWL. Jack came to rely on Ace’s talent but lashed out when his younger brother was at risk of leaving to join a rival league. It wasn’t until Jack’s wife, Staci (Alison Luff), threatened to leave with their son, Thomas (Roxton Garcia), that Jack decided to come clean to Ace—only for them both to lose the championship belt to Wild Bill’s (Chris Bauer) valet, Crystal Tyler (Kelli Berglund), in an improvised ending at the end of last season.


The writers, to their credit, don’t spend the next batch of episodes attempting to avoid the elephant in the room. Although they both need some time apart to grasp and articulate the source of their conflict, Jack and Ace are able to recognize how their own actions have contributed to their unhealthy sibling rivalry over the years and eventually arrive at the conclusion that the current state of their relationship cannot last. Amell and Ludwig continue to anchor this strong ensemble, with an extended one-on-one scene in a motel room that stands out as one of the best and most intimate conversations that their characters have ever had. Amell is a master of easygoing, self-deprecating humor in real life, but the actor seems to relish the more vulnerable moments when Jack bares his heart to the people he loves most, further proving that he has an acting range that’s much wider than Arrow allowed.


Instead of rehashing the beef between Jack and Ace, which would ultimately be a disservice to the healthy development of both characters, the show chooses to explore new sources of interpersonal conflict and raises the stakes of the various rivalries that drive the drama unfolding behind the scenes. After Jack punched and humiliated him in public last season, Charlie Gullen, a.k.a. Gully (Mike O’Malley), the owner of the Florida Wrestling Dystopia, threatens to sue Jack unless the more family-oriented DWL agrees to do a cross-promotion with his more violent wrestlers. O’Malley, who also serves as Heels’ showrunner, continues to steal every scene, delivering an antagonistic performance that only gets more entertaining as the final match approaches between the conflicting leagues. (Somehow, he turns a torrent of “fuck yous” into one of the funniest monologues of the season.)

Heels | Season 2 Official Trailer | STARZ

The women, however, are the glue that holds Heels together. Following her surprising victory, Crystal, much like the actor playing her, is forced to prove her mettle with the rest of the male wrestlers. But after seeing a report on the news about gender-based violence, Crystal and Willie decide that it is high time for a female wrestling division of the DWL. (To be fair, that part of the show could have benefitted from a tighter focus.) Willie sees Crystal as an impressionable version of her younger self, and their scenes are an important reminder of how difficult it is for women to succeed in a male-dominated sport. Even Staci, Jack’s idealistic wife who has a clear sense of right and wrong, is forced to bend her moral compass as she becomes better attuned to the inner workings of the DWL. Together, these women are a necessary foil to the show’s male characters, who would frankly be lost without them.

One of the biggest issues of the first half of season one was the uneven pacing and disproportionate focus on the Spade brothers, which didn’t give its supporting players a place to shine. But once the writers were able to move past the expository stage and find a way to make the show feel more like an ensemble piece, they laid the groundwork to expand its world beyond the confines of Duffy. The back half of this season introduces Jen Lussier (Emmy Raver-Lampman), a high-powered executive who is looking to expand her streaming service’s roster of unscripted programming. Her second-in-command, Brooks Rizzo (played by Josh Segarra, one of the hardest-working actors on television right now), wisely suggests investing in the massive wrestling market. And while she has little interest in the sport, Jen quickly becomes entranced by the spirited spectacle, proving that the show remains accessible to aficionados and newcomers alike. Heels is the kind of small-town sports drama—not unlike Friday Night Lights—that is built to last, with legs to go at least another couple more periods in the ring.

Heels season two premieres July 28 on Starz