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Scott D. Pierce: He plays soccer, he's a spy. 'Matador' is nuts

Published July 14, 2014 9:08 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Matador" is bat guano crazy.

The premise of this new series (Tuesday, 7, 8 and 10 p.m., El Rey) is laughable. A guy named Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna) is … well, let's let executive producer/co-creator Robert Orci ("Star Trek," "Transformers," "Sleepy Hollow") describe the idea "that was kicking around for years" and finally found fertile ground with Robert Rodriguez and his fledgling El Rey channel.

"Suddenly, it was a natural thing for me to say, 'What about this idea? Soccer player by day, spy by night?'" said Orci.

It's insane. But "Matador" is also a lot of fun if you suspend disbelief. A lot.

Soccer fans will either be (a) thrilled that their sport is now part of a prime-time series, or (b) offended that the soccer part of "Matador" is incredibly dumb.

Tony is recruited by the CIA to infiltrate the L.A. Riot of the American United Soccer League — a substitute for Major League Soccer. Tony makes the team at open tryouts, despite the fact that he hasn't played soccer since college.

The idea that a guy off the street could make it on a professional soccer team is ludicrous. The writers get around that by postulating that, during the tryout, Bravo does something that's caught on film and goes viral.

The owner of the team (Alfred Molina) "sees him as an asset from a commercial perspective," said executive producer/co-creator Dan Dworkin. "That's really kind of what puts him over the top."

That doesn't explain how Tony ends up playing not long after that, but … you've just got to go with it.

"We sort of say that the L.A. Riot is an underdog team, that it's slightly a team of misfits," Orci said. "Which, hopefully, makes it believable for an audience.... We don't want to be assassinated by soccer fans."

Luna makes a believable soccer player, although he's a novice to the sport — he played football and basketball growing up until an injury ended his hopes of playing college football. He's also a novice to being what Orci referred to as "an international man of mystery."

Luna said the spy stuff takes him back to when he was "12 years old. It's like running around with squirt guns and playing ball. I mean, it's really just super cool, man."

"It's kickass," Rodriguez said. "It's unpredictable. It's your dream kind of show to do."

(It's also quite violent. Definitely not for young kids.)

"Matador" isn't as much about soccer as it is an action/adventure. And the plan is for him to grow as both a spy and a soccer player over at least 26 episodes. (El Rey has already ordered a second, 13-episode season.)

"We think of this as an origin story for a hero," Orci said.

Just go with it. Don't think about it. "Matador" is fun.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.