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TV review: 'Heels' Season 2 crafts riveting drama in, out of ring

Alexander Ludwig (L) and Stephen Amell star in in "Heels." Photo courtesy of Starz
1 of 6 | Alexander Ludwig (L) and Stephen Amell star in in "Heels." Photo courtesy of Starz

LOS ANGELES, July 10 (UPI) -- If Starz simply launched the Duffy Wrestling League, it would be as compelling as the WWE or AEW. Wrestling drama Heels, returning July 28, doubles that drama with the continuing story of the DWL behind-the-scenes.

Season 2 of Heels picks up right where Season 1 left off. Brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig) have just confronted their real sibling conflict in front of an arena full of fans, while Crystal (Kelli Berglund) took the title belt in an improvised ending to the match.

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The night of that match is one of celebration for Crystal and it is endearing to see her pose with the belt in a well-earned victory. It also fuels the rivalry with Gully's (Mike O'Malley) Florida Wrestling Dystopia league and becomes a point of no return for Jack and Ace.

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Jack has to write more storylines to work around all the real-life developments. The story he devises works as a wrestling drama, with titles immediately called into question, and as a scripted drama about performers trying to make their matches work.

Just like in the major wrestling leagues, an underdog victory only lasts until the next match. Fans of the DWL would tune in just to see how Crystal defends her title against underhanded competitors.

Heels adds the Spade family drama to the mix. One big show doesn't solve the DWL's financial problems. It doesn't have WWE money, so its next steps are always more hustle.

Crystal also has to keep working for the spot she earned. There's a big difference between one stunt at the end of a match and full choreography. To truly join the league, Crystal has more training to do in and out of the ring.

The matches are crafted with narrative flow like the best professional wrestling fights. Within Heels, they represent Jack's storytelling flair, but in reality, it is a testament to the show's writers.

The actors perform wrestling moves well, and the show also edits in a few skillful acrobatics from stuntmen and women. The actors sell the pain, even though they are coordinating strikes.

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The personal drama gives the cast emotional opportunities, too. Jack still is separated from his wife, Staci (Alison Luff) and Heels does a good job dealing with an adult separation.

Jack and Staci still love each other, but their issues won't magically fix themselves. It is heartbreaking for both when they face setbacks despite sincere attempts at reconciliation.

In some ways, Jack is going through the motions to get Staci back, but not understanding what is really wrong, similar to how his relationship with Ace fractured. Heels takes several episodes to reach incremental change, so Jack earns it.

Heels addresses the complexity of real-life violence versus fictional performance in ways the subject warrants. Jack and Staci's son gets in trouble for fighting in school, so his violent reaction becomes the school's focus, not the underlying issues that led to the fight.

Crystal entering the ring immediately raises issues of real-life violence against women. Wrestlers don't want real-life violence but they're also punished for the behavior of violent men.

Heels is about personal growth, as well as building a wrestling league. Watching the characters grow is as rewarding as seeing any of them win a championship.

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Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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