'Matador': TV Review
Roberto and Andrew Orci's "Matador" combines a spy procedural with a sports drama, through the lens of an agent who plays for a fictional Los Angeles soccer team.
In Matador, the latest original series on Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network, DEA agent Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna) is plucked from his cover as a mechanic by the CIA, with a new mission: to try out for [fictional MLS team] the L.A. Riot, and gain insight into their powerful owner's suspicious dealings. During the course of his tryouts, Bravo also happens to take down the team's most fearsome defender on the pitch, earning him the title "Matador," and a subsequent viral video that makes him an instant star.
Matador is co-created and written by Roberto and Andrew Orci, along with Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie, and gained recent attention for having been renewed for a second, 13-episode season before airing its first. That bet is not a bad one, though. Matador may have a fairly ridiculous premise, but its execution is breezy summer fun. In fact, Matador's style and tone -- give or take a few meat cleavers -- is strongly reminiscent of a number of recent, glossy USA series, like Suits or Burn Notice.
The driving force of Matador is Bravo's access, via the team, to the Riot's owner, Andrés Galan (Alfred Molina), a telecommunications mogul who Bravo's brother dramatically tells him is a key player in attempting to build a one-world government with his international cronies. Clearly, Matador is going as big as possible with its macro plot (world domination!), but the nuts and bolts of the series seem to be more about episodic missions that focus on said cronies, and Galan's other interests.
Having only viewed the pilot, though, it's impossible to tell how the show will settle down and handle upcoming plots. The first episode set up plenty of key elements for Bravo, including his close relationship with his family (and his brother who is in jail for a violent felony), as well as his tense relationship with his CIA handlers (Neil Hopkins and Nicky Whelan). And though the Riot's team seems comprised of sports-movie stereotypes (the pretty-boy striker from England, who is played by Tanc Sade, or the Slavic defensive monster), it's a pilot, and these are touchstones that can be built off of. Basically, there are a lot of boilerplate elements to Matador's premiere that could get better and more complex, or could just leave it a middling series with obvious beats.
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As Bravo, Luna is a likeable good guy who is earnest and charismatic. He dances through his action scenes and the obligatory soccer training montage with ease, and comes out the other side maintaining great comedic timing. Matador isn't a comedy, but it has its moments of levity, which is smart — the show shouldn't take itself too seriously, and those very Rodriguez (who directed the pilot) touches of sudden jump cuts and cartoonish violence work perfectly with the overall aesthetic.
Matador's story may currently be mired in action clichés, but it does feature attractive people running around being bad asses, saving the world, and occasionally kicking a soccer ball. As a summer series in the wake of World Cup fever, perhaps Matador's biggest success it having arrived at the right time.