El Rey Network
Premiere Date: July 15th 2014
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Matador (Quid Go Pro)
Starring: Gabriel Luna, Nicky Whelan, Neil Hopkins, Alfred Molina, Tanc Sade, Yvette Monreal, Elizabeth Pena, Isabella Gomez, Eve Torres, Christopher Cousins
Hands up who likes soccer? Who likes watching soccer on TV, or watching soccer themed TV series or films? Considering that the 2014 soccer World Cup just finished this week, and there was buzz about many games, especially those involving Germany, who won (if you weren’t aware); it’s fitting and strategic for Robert Rodriguez, who created the El Rey Network in December 2013, to launch the soccer/spy centred drama Matadorthis summer, and to grab people’s attention while soccer is still on their minds.
Starring Gabriel Luna (Touch, NCIS:LA, Prison Break) as the lead protagonist Tony, a successful DEA agent who works for the CIA reluctantly at first; the episode follows Tony as he is propelled undercover into a fictitious soccer team, investigating corrupt owners and players, and reporting his findings back to his handlers. Strange enough premise, yet intriguing also? Let me give you a quick run-down of how the pilot was.
At the beginning of the first episode, Tony and his friend and fellow DEA agent Gabriel (played by Dylan Bruce, who was also in Arrow and Orphan Black), are undercover in California, trying to bust a low profile drug ring. After exposure by their criminal informant leads to a violent altercation which leaves Gabriel severely injured, and the drug syndicate shut down; the show time jumps maybe a couple of weeks. Gabriel then briefly travels back to his parents’ home for dinner with his sister, where they discuss and argue about his brother Ricky’s potential parole release from a lengthy stay in prison. That night when Tony is walking home (presumably on the same street or many 10 minutes away), a couple of CIA agents capture him, bringing him to a secret location, and offer him a deal to go undercover at the LA Riots, and help them expose the club for corruption and shady dealings. Certain individuals are assumed to be involved in illegal activities that could deem them being of significant importance and persons of interest in national security, including the club owner Andres Galan (Alfred Molina). So Tony immerses himself into the culture of the team, and proceeds to tryouts and a spot on the bench. The episode culminates in Tony being invited to an exclusive party where he, with covert help from his two handlers try to grab an encrypted flash drive that will incriminate several people at the club, and ruin careers, thereby protecting the public and the nation.
But why is Tony doing all of this, you say? Can’t he walk away, and continue working with Gabriel at the DEA? As with most crime TV dramas, there is a moral dilemma or personal element introduced early on. For this show, apparently, the CIA know about Ricky and leverage this information, bribing Tony, saying that they’ll release him, with all charges being dropped if Tony completes this mission. So Tony ‘has no choice’ or at least limited choice. Throughout the show, Tony seem infatuated with one of his handlers, Annie, played by Aussie actress Nicky Whelan (who is starring in Left Behind in October, and is known for the Australian TV show Neighbours); will we see a romance being played out on our screens like Chuck and Sarah from NBC’s Chuck?
The pairing of Chuck and Sarah compared with the parallels to the possible pairing of Annie and Tony, it’s clear that Tony has some reason to stay (Nicky Whelan is perfectly cast, as her beauty mixed with her tough no-nonsense attitude and spunkiness make her a likeable character, and a reason for Tony to fall head over heels), much to the chagrin and displeasure of Noah. He tries to shoot Tony’s legs after the supposed end of the mission (near the end of the episode) because ‘he knows too much’- thankfully he didn’t succeed. But it turns out that Tony has won his place on the soccer team for the rest of the season, thus making this season about ‘catching bigger fish’, and keeping Tony undercover, placing this show squarely within the formula of Chuck; the case of the week with an overarching theme of the big bad, who is obviously the head of the football club, but could potentially be Noah- there’s just something off about him in my opinion. Anyway, there are plenty of parallels between Chuck and Matador (while Chuck’s cover is working at the Buymore at Burbank, and has handlers Sarah and Casey, Tony is undercover at the L.A. Riots, and works with Annie and Noah- played by Neil Hopkins of LOST fame); and that’s partly what drew me to the show.
As this show is a pilot, I felt that there was slightly too much crammed into the 47 minutes (although not too much added info to turn me away from the show), and this definitely shows in terms of character introduction and lots of B and C plots. We are introduced to Tony’s partner Gabriel, his parents, brother and sister, his two handlers, many players on the team, as well as Andres Galan, and his irresponsible and reckless teenage daughter Senna, who takes an interest to Tony at the party (is the show gearing to a love triangle with Tony torn between Senna and Annie?). There is also tons of backstory, including the personal aspect of Tony’s missions, and the disdain and contempt between Tony and Noah; and technical language thrown around by Noah and Annie- a fair amount that I couldn’t understand fully the intricacies of the reasons why Tony needed the flash drive and had to be at the party, but not that much as the show is still enjoyable without fully grasping the inner workings of the CIA.
We also had quite a few shots of the soothing and relaxing beach side atmosphere of California, contrasted with the dark and gritty streets of Tony’s hometown of L.A, and there were also extended scenes of the chaotic frenzied pace of the soccer field, the unknown secret base of the CIA, as well as the 10 minute long pivotal party scene, in which we get to see Tony in a bit of a pickle and be saved by Annie. With an extra-long training session near the beginning (which wasn’t needed that much) as well as Tony voicing his dilemma and thoughts to his optimistic brother from prison, and you get a jam packed pilot that is well worth following, for the story, suspense, characters, actors, and picturesque locations.
Premiering today (July 15th in the U.S, July 16th here in Australia as I am writing this!) against Rizzoli and Isles (TNT), Royal Pains (USA) and Chasing Life (ABC Family) at 9pm, and with Matador being the second scripted series to join the newly established network (in which the first show on El Rey Network was the horror themed From Dusk To Dawn); it is unknown as to what ratings the show will receive. With the show premiering on a newly created network catered to Latinos, the fact that the show is in English tells me that the network is trying to actively attract wider audiences from all kinds of backgrounds, which is bold and daring for the channel. Something different than the usual ‘murder case of the week’ or the medical or lawyer show, Matadoris anchored in great chemistry between the cast, mostly likeable characters, as well as a twist at the end of the pilot (which I’m not saying!) that could make your jaw drop. With the show being renewed a few weeks ago for a second season, deeming ratings for the first season somewhat irrelevant, it seems Matadoris here to stay for at least 2 years, and hopefully in the future El Rey Network can be uttered in the same breath as other cable channels like TNT, USA, FX, Showtime and HBO.
Did Matador leave a lasting impression on you? Which theme in the first episode spoke to you the most? What elements of the show did you enjoy- the soccer or the espionage parts? Will you be tuning in next week? Let us know in the comments.
RIYL: Chuck, The Bridge, Gang Related, Covert Affairs, soccer games on FOX Sports or ESPN
Rating: 4/5 (based on 1 episode)
Matador airs every Tuesday at 9/8c on El Rey Network.