‘Heels’: Is Stephen Amell’s Wrestling Show About the WWE?

The Netflix series GLOW paid homage to the women wrestlers of the ’80s. Starz’s new drama Heels is a modern day take on wrestling. Jack Spade (Stephen Amell) runs and performs in the Duffy Wrestling League with his brother Ace (Alexander Ludwig). Is the DWL based on WWE?

Alexander Ludwig and Stephen Amell prepare to enter the ring
L-R: Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig | Starz

Heels creator Michael Waldron and executive producer Mike O’Malley spoke to reporters in a Zoom roundtable on Aug. 3. Both discussed the influences of real-world wrestling leagues on their show. Heels airs Sundays on Starz.

The ‘Heels’ wrestlers hope to join the WWE 

Heels presumably takes place in a world where WWE, and WCW before it, also exist. The Spades will reference Ric Flair, as an example of a real wrestler. The DWL is more like the indie circuit that can lead to WWE.

Stephen Amell pins his opponent in Heels
Stephen Amell pins his opponent | Starz

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“One of the things that’s interesting about the whole world that Michael has created, these guys aspire to become successful and reach the heights of pro wrestling success,” O’Malley said. “That’s what they dream of. Some of them, it may have passed them by. But they all are trying to climb that mountain if not to necessarily make it in the WWE or AEW, to create a promotion that is self-sufficient, that allows them to quit their day jobs and allows them to express their creativity.”

WWE women’s wrestling inspired this ‘Heels’ story

The DWL has female performers, just like WWE. Crystal (Kelli Berglund) is a DWL wrestler to watch for.

Heels: Alexander Ludwig and Kelli Berglund in the ring
Alexander Ludwig and Kelli Berglund | Starz

“I think there’s been such an amazing revolution in the women’s side of wrestling, to the point that you could argue that the best performances in the WWE now are on the women’s side,” Waldron said. “So of course we want to showcase that in our show but we wanted with Crystal, you’ve got a character who’s kind of at the bottom of the ladder when things are starting out, trying to carve out her place in this world. We thought that was a really fun place to meet her and to watch her have to overcome those odds in what is, when the story picks up, a very male dominated world on the wrestling side. How is she going to break in and try to make a name for herself? It’s a fun story to watch play out.”

The dangerous side of pro wrestling is represented too 

O’Malley also plays the character Charlie Gully, proprietor of a competing wrestling league. Gully’s matches take inspiration from the ECW that lasted from 1992 – 2001.

“I drew inspiration from ECW, which was a promotion back in the day, back in the heyday of WCW and WWF that was doing slightly crazier matches and just more violent stuff,” Waldron said. “He’s kind of a takeoff of all these different crazy underground promoters who will do whatever it takes to get their outfit in the spotlight.”

Heels: Mike O'Malley talks to Alexander Ludwig
L-R: Alexander Ludwig and Mike O’Malley | Starz

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O’Malley added a bit about his character. Gully is there to show what Jack is up against. 

“Charlie Gully’s character is a guy who’s doing it to a different degree that Jack is doing it but he will leave no stone unturned where Jack has, I believe, a different viewpoint for the kind of stories that he wants to tell in his family promotion,” O’Malley said. “Charlie Gully, Michael wrote this great line where Jack says they stage car crashes. That’s what it is and people look because they can’t believe. It’s blood and gore and violence. People rubberneck for a reason but do they come back for it? Are they emotionally invested in the characters and who the characters are instead of the spectacle.”