Family dramas centered around independent or small-town wrestling/fighting is not a novel format; Byron Balasco’s show Kingdom and Tom Hardy-starrer Warrior are good examples. Starz’s newest outing Heels starring Arrow star Stephen Amell works around the familiar subjects of drama, legacy, and sibling rivalry, but switches up a few things.
The obvious dangers associated with a violent, combat-based sport and the deep-rooted dysfunctions in a family can be a powerful recipe for a show if they are used well together. For the most part, Heels relies on its characters who come across as down-to-earth, imperfect people with a lot of individuality, and certain traits stand out among its main cast which makes the show so engaging.
10 Wild Bill Hancock
The wrestling scout is also a former wrestling sensation and in a small town like Duffy, he stands as a symbol of luck, fame, and success. The showrunners made the most of this aspect since the people in the town idolized Bill and though Bill is aware of how he is perceived, he doesn’t get carried away with the glory.
There are instances when he tries to enable Ace’s toxic side to boost his esteem in a professional gambit since he believes anger is something that could make Ace a better wrestler. In spite of his shrewd approach, Wild Bill has more insight and perspective than he lets on, which adds a headiness to his character.
9 Carol Spade
It’s possible that Carol’s role will be better etched out in possible future seasons because the Spade matriarch’s character has been designed with a lot of nuance. Carol is the quintessential peace-maker between her sons but she’s also very aware of the dualities of the sport her family is involved in.
When she tells Staci ‘anger is more useful than grief,’ it’s not a toxic declaration. She isn’t enabling her children’s hang-ups either, but it suggests that Carol simply knows better than someone who’s an outsider and is unaware of the family’s history with the sport.
Apocalypse’s loyalty to the Spades is questioned by his peers, but it’s easy to see why James would be so committed to serving the family’s interests after the Spades helped his recovery and took him back despite his troubled past.
He also knows better than to let his anxieties and paranoia get the better of him since he has experienced personal darkness in the past, so he is portrayed as someone who’s grateful for what he has got.
7 Rooster Robbins
Rooster is a star and he knows it, but this knowledge weighs heavy on him since he can’t seem to explore his full potential in the league. He is frustrated by the nepotism in the league and is not happy about how forces outside of the ring and the personal conflicts of others keep him away from his rightful due.
This is what makes his character so compelling. Even if the audiences root for the Spades, it’s hard to dismiss Rooster’s angst because it’s legitimate and the conflict he brings is authentic.
6 Tom Spade
Viewers only get to experience the Spade patriarch through glimpses of flashbacks, old videos, and recollections of his children. When Bill comments that Tom Spade built a ‘cathedral to the town’s favorite past-time,’ it depicts Tom as an architect who designed something that never existed.
His children realize that, which is why it’s so difficult for Ace and Jack to separate their own dreams from what their dad would have wanted them to be. It becomes obvious that Jack and Ace (irrespective of their priorities) want to become their father, which makes his influence so staggering and also all-pervasive.
5 Willie Day
Willie’s character showcases a strong duality on many levels. She has earned her place in the male-dominated world of wrestling so she understands how difficult it can be for people of her gender; but then again, when it comes to making room for another young female valet, she doesn’t budge and basically denies her the same privileges that were denied to her.
Her character offers an earthy, realistic commentary about how women cope in unwelcoming situations which is engaging and insightful and yet keeps the viewers guessing about her.
Ace’s character isn’t wholly original. The ambitious younger brother trope gets a very familiar treatment in Heels. Ace dreams of leaving his small town to make it big in wrestling and disagrees with his older brother on many things. Though he admires Jack, it’s possible that he believes he is more talented than his sibling and should have a bigger say in the league.
It’s also possible that he doesn’t yet know what he wants in life because he claims he wants to come back, but is checked by his brother who knows that he does not want to live in Duffy. This also makes it difficult to dislike Ace because he’s not wholly selfish and wants to do right by his family, but his priorities revolve around furthering his career.
3 Staci Spade
Staci and Jack have been together for almost a decade and it’s evident that their companionship is a successful one. It’s not without tensions, of course, but Staci puts transparency first. She believes it’s virtually impossible to make money off wrestling and conveys it to her husband, which suggests she is a realist.
Staci is impeccably likable because she is able to express her own opinions in a way that does not hurt her family’s long-standing beliefs. As an outsider, she also seems to have a better perspective of how her father-in-law’s legacy drives her family members, and many times on the show she comes across as a stabilizing agent.
2 Crystal Tyler
Crystal is okay with asking for what she wants, which makes her character a rather inspiring one. She is aware of how female valets are perceived in small-town wrestling, and knows that she will never get more unless she demands what she deserves.
In her personal relationships she puts herself first, which makes her arc so empowering. She and Ace share great chemistry but she’s also a great ally to him and on many occasions, her character comes across as a positive influence, because she is not consumed entirely by her own view of the world and has honest motivations.
1 Jack Spade
With Stephen Amell’s wrestler Jack, the resilient, ever-suffering older brother cliche gets an update. Jack sees himself as a worthy successor to his father, and he thinks he is the architect of Ace’s stage persona which is key to his success. This may not be entirely true but this is what makes Jack so human, the fact that he’s occasionally wrong and that he’s not ready to be a martyr.
He’s not selfish or ego-centric but is also keenly aware of the impossibility of what he’s trying to achieve which adds a weariness to his character. His relationship with Ace is a strong anchor for his persona, but that doesn’t drive his character entirely, and as a principle lead Jack’s character leaves the biggest impact.