STARZ has lengthy been residence to authentic sequence that revolve round settings hardly ever seen elsewhere on TV. Sure, there’s the occasional crime procedural — hi there, High Town and The Missing — however a STARZ present is extra more likely to happen in a ballet college, throughout two parallel universes, in New York City’s nightclub underworld, amongst bored cater-waiters, or someplace within the 18th century. Its newest drama carries on this legacy of exploring the obscure: Heels introduces us to the Duffy Wrestling League, a struggling operation in small-town Georgia. But Heels wasn’t the primary present to take us behind the scenes of professional wrestling: it was preceded by GLOW, Netflix’s backstage dramedy about ladies’s professional wrestling — a present that, we have been instructed, couldn’t survive the challenges imposed by filming below COVID protocols and received un-renewed final fall. I’m definitely conscious of the numerous double requirements that exist within the patriarchy wherein all of us reside, but when a present about males’s wrestling might be shot in the course of the pandemic, a present about ladies’s wrestling ought to have been, too.
For those that didn’t observe GLOW‘s fortunes as closely as I did, here’s the timeline. GLOW‘s first season premiered in 2017. Shortly after the release of its third, in the summer of 2019, GLOW was renewed for what we were told was a fourth and final season — news that was tragic for fans (me) who felt it could and should have gone on for 30 seasons or more, but comforting in that it at least permitted the show’s creators, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, to wrap up the story on their phrases. Production started in February of 2020. The solid and crew accomplished capturing on the Season 4 premiere. Then filming shut down because of the COVID pandemic. Then Netflix introduced that, really, it wouldn’t be back after all. “We’ve made the difficult decision not to do a fourth season of GLOW due to COVID, which makes shooting this physically intimate show with its large ensemble cast especially challenging,” mentioned an unnamed Netflix spokesperson — probably nameless for concern that bitter followers (me) would heckle them in public.
It was a heartbreaking flip of occasions, however I received it. In October of 2020, nobody within the U.S. had but been vaccinated in opposition to COVID. The British panel present Taskmaster was protecting its stars six ft in aside simply to sit down in a studio; some American late-night hosts have been nonetheless taping their reveals at residence. One of Netflix’s largest authentic sequence, The Circle, was a actuality competitors wherein gamers have been every successfully quarantined in their very own flats, with none crew to movie them; I might perceive that executives’ imaginations failed when it got here to the query of how you can stage its wrestling matches whereas protecting the quantity of breath and sweat its solid members exchanged to a minimal.
But THEN I HEARD ABOUT HEELS.
…okay, I had in all probability heard about Heels lengthy earlier than: it began making information as a STARZ sequence prospect back in 2017, just a few months earlier than GLOW premiered. Its premise began to fill out because the community introduced its casting: Arrow star Stephen Amell plays Jack Spade, at the moment enjoying the villain (aka the heel, in wrestling parlance), within the wrestling league his father based; Jack additionally scripts all its matches. Vikings alumnus Alexander Ludwig plays Ace Spade, Jack’s youthful brother; a university soccer washout, Ace is now the league’s latest hero (aka the face), with Jack efficiently pumping up their brother vs. brother story to goose ticket gross sales. But are these really the appropriate roles for every of the Spades to play? And is Jack too targeted on their arc to note a few of his different wrestlers are rising pissed off on the sidelines?
“It must be pretty boring to have a show about wrestling that doesn’t actually include wrestling scenes, though,” you may be pondering — you recognize, as a result of if that was the explanation GLOW couldn’t proceed, then certainly the identical guidelines apply to Heels. But no, expensive reader: the Heels wrestlers undoubtedly wrestle. In the ring, they scream at one another, covertly whisper in one another’s ears, soar on one another, press your complete lengths of their oiled-up our bodies collectively; like GLOW, it’s a “physically intimate show” with a “large ensemble cast.” “But maybe they shot it pre-COVID?” Nope! I wasn’t capable of decide precisely when manufacturing began, however Amell sustained an damage throughout a wrestling scene in October — simply days after Netflix reversed GLOW‘s renewal. STARZ figured out how to do the show safely enough under COVID conditions that, unlike dozens of other shows, it seems never to have shut down production due to a positive COVID test. You’re telling me GLOW couldn’t have been simply as conscientious? Does Alison Brie strike you as somebody who brings a laissez-faire angle to the set?! Because that’s not how she strikes me — and she or he ought to have been given the chance to strike every kind of individuals in THE FOURTH SEASON GLOW SHOULD HAVE HAD.
And look: Heels isn’t a nasty present. I raced by the 4 screener episodes critics have been supplied and intend to look at all eight of the season’s episodes. Amell and Ludwig have compelling brother chemistry, and Chris Bauer — as Wild Bill Hancock, former heel to their late dad’s face, who was recruited from the DWL to wrestling fame on a nationwide scale — is especially nice as an unapologetic jackass. But because the ponderous theme tune and flickering credit sequence warn the viewer, this isn’t a present that’s attempting to be lots enjoyable. It’s striving to remind you of Friday Night Lights (although, inasmuch it issues characters in a dying Southern city whose bodily mastery is under-appreciated as a result of even its followers assume it’s faux, it has way more in frequent with one other STARZ present: P-Valley), and its portrayal of grownup males not fairly coping with their trauma concerning their lifeless father is well-trod pop-cultural floor. What made GLOW so shocking, so bracing, and so particular is that it was about ladies discovering their skilled identities — and true sisterhood with each other — in what’s historically a male pursuit. Seeing males in what’s historically a male pursuit is…advantageous? But it doesn’t hit the identical method.
GLOW was — regardless of how a lot I cherished it — not a excellent present, and its producers had blind spots, significantly concerning race, which a number of of its cast members of color successfully challenged them to address within the fourth season we are going to by no means see. The marginalization of the DWL’s non-white performers is already a storyline within the first half of Heels‘s début season, suggesting that even if GLOW didn’t get an opportunity to be taught from Heels on the matter of COVID protocols, Heels might have had the possibility to be taught from GLOW on its portrayal of racial points.
I’m an grownup and I perceive how this stuff work. I do know that if GLOW have been an even bigger hit, Netflix would have discovered a solution to make the COVID math work and full the fourth season we have been promised. I additionally comprehend it’s simpler, in the primary, to promote feminine viewers on a present about males than to promote male viewers on a present about ladies. And I do know that Heels and GLOW have been by no means actually in competitors. But when two such related reveals have such completely different pandemic trajectories, it’s exhausting to not examine and distinction. GLOW gained three Emmys from its 18 nominations; Heels has a sequence creator, Michael Waldron, who’s now a giant shot within the Marvel universe, because the showrunner on Loki and author on the following Doctor Strange film. Prestige is sweet, nevertheless it’s no match for a built-in nerd viewers. I’m not really mad at Heels, however I’ll in all probability be mad about GLOW for the remainder of my life, and I want we lived in a world the place each have been doable, as a substitute of this multiverse of insanity.
Writer, editor, and snack fanatic Tara Ariano was the co-founder of Television Without Pity, Fametracker, and Previously.TV. She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place), and the co-author with Sarah D. Bunting of A Very Special 90210 Book: 93 Absolutely Essential Episodes From TV’s Most Notorious Zip Code (Abrams 2020). She has additionally contributed to New York, the New YorkInstances Magazine, Collider, Vanity Fair, Slate, Mel Magazine, Vulture, Salon, and The Awl, amongst many others. She lives in Austin.