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Stephen Amell's Heels Reviews Are In, Here's What CinemaBlend And Other Critics Are Saying About Starz's Wrestling Drama

Stephen Amell talks into a microphone in the wrestling ring in Heels.

The upcoming Starz drama Heels stars real-life wrestling fan and occasional participant Stephen Amell as Jack Spade, who constantly butts heads — both in and out of the ring — with his brother Ace Spade (Vikings’ Alexander Ludwig) as the brothers try to keep their small-town wrestling promotion alive after their father’s death. It’s a classic battle of villainous “heels” vs. protagonist “faces” as the cable drama aims to offer a glimpse behind the masks and fanfare, to illuminate a side of independent wrestling that most of us don’t get to witness in action.

Stephen Amell’s first big TV project after starring for eight seasons on The CW's Arrow is one that's close to his heart, as Amell has been involved in various wrestling promotions over the years — including a WWE SummerSlam. So wrestling fans have high, off-the-top-turnbuckle hopes for the series, and they thankfully don’t have to wait much longer to see it. With Heels premiering very soon, let’s see what the critics are saying, starting with our own mini-review from CinemaBlend's Nick Venable, who thinks the new drama is a winner for all audiences, no matter how one feels about wrestling itself.

With all the TV shows and movies about actors, dancers, athletes, musicians and more, it's mind-boggling that pro wrestling is so consistently ignored, especially now that Starz's Heels is already oozing Friday Night Lights vibes. Stars Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig successfully shed their former Arrow and Vikings roles to play brothers driven by egos, libidos and other things that end in "o." The character drama is palpable and plentiful, and the best part - at least for others beyond myself - is that you don't need to actually give a shit about wrestling in order to be swayed by the universal struggles at Heels' core. And all hail True Blood and The Deuce vet Chris Bauer, who deserves an Emmy, an ESPY and an honorary WWE Hall of Fame entry for his role as Wild Bill Hancock.

In its review of the Starz drama, Collider calls Heels an unabashed soap opera in the way it plants wrestling-esque plots into its domestic settings.

It's a show about big men with bigger feelings, able to press another man over their heads but still struggling under the weight of their own ambitions, the reluctant pride they feel while performing in half-empty halls, and the responsibilities left behind by absent father figures.

The A.V. Club also compared the series' storytelling mechanics to how things are handled in professional wrestling itself, by way of introducing seemingly stereotypical characters and then peeling back the layers of their lives to make everyone more rounded.

In its own way, the series operates a lot like professional wrestling. From a distance you can see the stereotypical characters, the good vs. evil dichotomy, and larger-than-life drama. But give it time, and dig a little deeper, and soon you’ll find yourself emotionally invested in a bunch of misfit weirdos throwing fake punches while dressed in spandex.

Entertainment Weekly gave Heels a B+, complimenting its slow-burn arc and the actors’ performances, but took issue with the writing for the show’s female characters, namely Jack’s business partner Willie (played by Mary McCormack) and his wife Staci (Alison Luff).

Pro wrestling isn't as male-dominated as it once was, but it's still awash in testosterone, and Heels' female characters feel somewhat derivative. … This is not a knock on the actresses; McCormack and Luff are particularly appealing in their roles and deserve more.

TV Line also points out that you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy Heels, much like Friday Night Lights wasn’t just enjoyed by high school football fans. While the review states there were missed opportunities to address unconscious bias with its BIPOC characters, the outlet still called Heels a “well-written love letter to independent wrestling.”

Heels is an entertaining and worthwhile watch for wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans alike. While the show’s in-ring segments are pretty cool, the show’s biggest sell is the prickly but tight-knit relationship between the Spade brothers, who have very different dreams but remain entwined because of the family business.

While there were certainly some smaller criticisms directed at Heels across the board, the overall consensus points to Heels being a new drama that's well worth anyone's time, regardless of how one feels about the shirtless and sweat-covered subject matter. By and large, Starz's foray into dramatized sports-entertainment is worth the price of admission, and a couple of beers in giant plastic cups.

Heels premieres on Starz on Sunday, August 15, with the first season consisting of eight hourlong episodes. Be sure to check out our Fall TV schedule to see what else is happening this month.

Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.