Matador is completely aware of how ridiculous its premise is, announcing as much in the very beginning. In the first 10 minutes, the audience is introduced to a German drug dealer who is thinking about starting a sausage business on the side (he’s already got a slogan: “Do your wurst”); an informant gets a meat cleaver to the head; and our hero, Tony Bravo, throws up on the aforementioned drug dealer, because he just can’t handle his tequila. And that’s all before Tony becomes a soccer-playing undercover agent looking to topple a world power. Matador, created by Roberto Orci, Jay Beattie, Dan Dworkin, and Andrew Orci, is a slight, occasionally fun take on the secret agent genre that network El Rey has so much confidence in that it renewed the show for a second season before airing its debut episode, premiering just as the World Cup wraps up.
Gabriel Luna plays Tony Bravo (With a name like that, secret bureau work is predestined.), a Drug Enforcement Administration agent recruited by a couple of CIA officers, including the comely Annie Mason (Nicky Whelan), because of his soccer-playing past. Bravo is to attend open tryouts for the L.A. Riot (Yep… ), the soccer team owned by the uber-rich Andrés Galan (Alfred Molina, who doesn’t do much heavy lifting in the pilot). Bravo’s mission: to act as the man on the inside of Galan’s organization. The team is populated with its own set of colorful characters—the aging British superstar, the dancer-turned-soccer-whiz, the ultra-violent enforcer with crazed fans—who will surely tussle with Bravo in future episodes. Bravo balks at the CIA’s offer as soon as the prospect of becoming a soccer player is mentioned. Bravo’s long-deceased dad was a soccer player, after all. But when the CIA agents offer to free Bravo’s surrogate brother from prison and threaten to blow his DEA cover to his neighborhood, he goes for the, well, goal.
Matador is silly, well-paced fun that’s at its best when it goes big and broad—as in the opening German drug dealer, complete with comical accent, rat-like features and gory machinations—much like films of Robert Rodriguez, who directed the first episode “Quid Go Pro” and runs El Rey. The soccer scenes are cheaper replacements for true action setpieces, giving “Quid Go Pro” a built-in momentum. But the show is weighed down by clunky dialogue and a lead who was not particularly dazzling in the initial episode sent out to critics. Luna’s Bravo lacks that James Bond je ne sais quoi, even if he’s a reluctant participant in his own plot. Interestingly, Bravo mentions throughout “Quid Go Pro” that he does not speak Spanish, possibly as a means of character development, casting off the shackles of his deceased father’s life, or as an excuse not to use subtitles on a network geared toward young, Hispanic males. It’s not as if every Hispanic character on television needs to be multilingual and swill tequila, but both facts are mentioned enough that they are clearly deliberate character traits.
One of the more perplexing characters on the show is Galan’s daughter Senna (Yvette Monreal), a snotty singer who proudly tells her father she hasn’t worn underwear since grade school. Well-rounded female characters don’t seem to be Matador’s focus (Annie’s biggest contribution to the undercover op necessitates she wear a body-hugging dress and serve as arm candy.), but Senna is particularly troublesome. In one scene, Bravo thwarts his own mission to help Senna, who he thinks is being sexually assaulted by two men. Nope, despite her vocal protests, girl just likes it rough. While chastising Senna for her sexual proclivities, Bravo advises her to lie and buy into the assault story for her father’s sake. The exaggerated pulp aspect is inherent to a show that needs to go big like Matador, but Senna’s story doesn’t have any bearing on the plot as a whole.
Matador has the potential to be really fun, once the place-setting of the first episode is out of the way. But the show won’t unlock that potential unless it fully buys into how ridiculous it can truly be.