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Series / Matador (1978)

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Matador is a classic Danish television series produced by Nordisk Film for Danmarks Radio in 1978-81. It was directed by Erik Balling (of Olsen-banden fame) with a manuscript by a team of writers headed by the popular novel author Lise Nørgaard.

In 1929 the young textiles representative Mads Andersen-Skjern, along with his son, Daniel, arrives in Korsbæk, a small, sleepy Zealandic town, dominated by a few old business families, headed by Hans Christian Varnæs, owner and manager of Korsbæk Bank. Mads is rudely snubbed by Arnesen, the incompetent owner of the town's draper's shop and decides to stay and go into business for himself, with a resolve that is only hardened when he is refused a loan by Varnæs, who is a personal friend of Arnesen. Mads also befriends the good-hearted pig-dealer Oluf Larsen, who, though wealthy, is too uncouth to be part of the city's society, and his daughter, Ingeborg, who Mads eventually marries. Over the years, Mads manages to put Arnesen out of business, form an empire of clothing stores, factories and banks, and finally be accepted by the established society.

Around the central conflict between the established society around Varnæs and the ambitious newcomer, Skjern, the life of the town unfolds, and everybody has to come to term with the changing times in both their small society and Denmark at large.

The series was panned by the critics when it was first appeared on Danish National Television, but became an instant success with the viewers. It has since achieved near-mythological status in Denmark and it is said that you will never understand Denmark and the Danes until you have seen Matador. And as of 2015 you can even visit a real-life Korsbæk amusement park north of Copenhagen complete with actors playing the original roles in the recreated decorations.

The series has nothing to do with Toros y Flamenco — in Denmark a matador is a business magnate. Matador is also the name of the Danish board game that Monopoly, is based of, which we see the Varnæses play with their friends in one episode.

For the science fiction book series by Steve Perry go here.

This TV series contains examples of:

  • A Day in the Limelight: The kitchen maid Laura is usually a secondary character in other characters' storylines, but during the appropriately titled "Laura's Big Day" she is a main character.
  • Abusive Parents: Mads is neglectful at best, and emotionally abusive at worst to Daniel, eventually disowning and throwing him out of his house when it turns he is gay.
  • Anti-Hero: Mads Skjern is the hero of the story, in that he overcomes huge odds and build an empire from nothing, but his ruthless business methods and callous treatment of others, especially his son Daniel, makes you less likely to root for him.
  • Anti-Villain: Holger, Ingeborg's first husband and Ellen's father, who joins the Danish Nazi Party and later the SS, because he sees it as the only way to show Ingeborg and Ellen that he is not a complete failure.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Hans Cristian Varnæs stops Skjold Hansen from ranting about how Mads Skjern is an uppity newcomer by asking him how long his own family have lived in Korsbæk. This is in fact the only time anyone in the series manages to make Skjold Hansen shut up.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Kristen and Iben's marriage is miserable almost from the very beginning, as Kristen is still in love with Elisabeth and wants a more traditional life, whereas Iben has no interest in the domestic arts and just wants to be free.
  • Benevolent Boss: When his bank is defaced with antisemtic statements, Hans Christian declares that he "won't stand for anyone harrasing his employees." Downplayed, as this is the only time this side of Hans Christian is explicitly shown.
  • Betty and Veronica: A subtle version in the first couple of episodes. Bolt's Veronica and Lauritz's Betty to Agnes's Archie.
  • Berserk Button: Kristen loses his temper every time someone criticises his brother.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Frequently occurs with German characters, especially when they interact with working class Danes. The upper class characters are generally much more fluent in German.
  • Book Ends: The series first episode starts with a dinner party in the Varnæs family, on the day where Mads Skjern arrive in Korsbæk as a lowly representative. The last episode, nineteen years later, ends with a dinner party at the Varnæses, but now Mads and his family are at the table as well.
  • Camp Gay: Mr. Schwann, as per Word of God.
  • Character Development: One of the most important parts of the series is how many of the characters go through some kind of develoement. Examples:
    • Maude goes from being weak, dependant and naïve, to being stronger and more involved.
    • Vicki goes from being from being a carefree partygirl, to a very independet young woman.
    • Agnes goes from being quite silly and naïve to being a Mama Bear and succesfull business woman.
    • Ellen's development resembles Vicki's.
    • It's implied that Daniel might've learned to stop caring about Mads' expectations, when Ingeborg comes back from France and says that he didn't need her.
    • Violet Vinter (the dancing teacher) goes through a more negative kind. She goes from being kind to being selfish, alcoholic and vain.
  • Chummy Commies: Lauritz Jensen, called "Red", has his flaws, but in the end he's a rather decent person.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Hans Christian Varnæs' drunken "To Hell with ..." rant after a particularly unpleasant meeting in the bank.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Skjold-Hansen, who rents his garage facillities out to the Germans. They are blown up by La Résistance.
    • Ellen's eventual father-in-law is a member of the Danish-German Society and, according to Mads, is the connection between Danish business owners and the Nazi regime. Both Kristen and Ingeborg are disgusted, but Mads sees nothing wrong with it.
    • Mads himself also trades with the Germans. He tends to justify himself by pointing out he's selling them uncomfortable clothes, but it's clear he's profiting off of the situation. He isn't gleeful about it the way Skjold-Hansen is, however.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Elisabeth, especially when around people she dislikes.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Jørgen Varnæs does not like it when Gitte Graae calls him "Pusling" (i.e. Tiny) - or when his brother digs up his old school nickname "Fister".
    • "Pusling" might also be an Ironic Nickname, as Jørgen Varnæs is the tallest character in the series.
  • Ensemble Cast: The Varnæs family, the Skjern family and friends or servants of the families are all important characters.
    • The obvious protagonist would be Mads, though some people argue that Maude Varnæs is the true protagonist, because of her character growth.
  • The First Cut Is the Deepest: Ulrik Varnæs for Ellen Skjern.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mads and Kristen's sister, Anna, who comes from the same strict Christian (Inner Mission Evangelicalism) background as her brothers, but who, unlike them still lives according to it's ideals. Mads is a downplayed example early on but over time loses this trait due to a mix of Ingeborg's influence and his transition into a rich businessman.
  • Heroic BSoD: Mads Skjern breaks down completely after Ingeborg leaves him in the final episode.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Mads displays this side of himself, when he discovers that his son, Daniel, is gay. He responds by disowning Daniel and banishing him from his house, and denounces him as "sick in the head", when an outraged Ingeborg demands to known how he can treat his own son like that.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Laura often scolds Agnes for being to curious about things and talking too much about things, that are none of her business. Laura is quite curious herself, though and always wants to hear the gossip Agnes've got.
    • When Dr. Hansen publishes a scathing article about the local industries pollution of the fjord, he gets attacked in the local newspaper under the headline "It is a bad bird that fouls its own nest" - which is of course Dr. Hansen's point exactly.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Hans Christian Varnæs: (irate) We are many who have noticed you and your methods!
    Mads Skjern: (icy calm) I'll take that as a compliment.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In the first episode, set in 1929, Jørgen Varnæs declares confidently that the newly elected Socialist Prime Minister Stauning will not last long. Stauning was PM for a record period of 13 years until his death in 1942.
  • I Have No Son!: Mads disowns Daniel when he finds out that Daniel is homosexual.
  • Karmic Death: Professor Andersen. He marries Misse Møghe's to get his hands on her inheritance, but on the wedding night she gets so scared when he wants to sleep with her that she shuts him out on the balcony on a freezing cold April night, and later lets him die from pneumonia.
  • Lad-ette: Iben, to some extent. She loves horse, wants to be a rider, is a Lethal Chef and is very irresponsible.
  • Lethal Chef: Iben's mum keeps talking about an attempt of Iben's to cook a duck that went wrong.
  • Love at First Sight: Kristen thought that there was "something remarkable" about Elisabeth from the very first time he saw her.
  • Love Triangle: Elisabeth, Kristen and the Doctor - implied when Dr. Hansen flatly states that while Kristen has been waiting for a response to his courting for two years, Hansen has been waiting for ten years for the same response. They all get along splendidly in due time.
  • Mama Bear: Agnes very much so, Ingeborg to a lesser degree, often defending Daniel from Mads' dismissive and cold attitude.
  • Manchild: Pig-dealer Oluf Larsen, most of the time.
  • Meaningful Rename: Once Mads has established himself as a force in Korsbæk, he changes the family name from Andersen-Skjern to just Skjern.
    • Ironically, in the first episode we hear the Varnæs brothers joke about how their grandfather, who founded the bank, changed his name from the common "Hansen" to the more aristocratic-sounding Varnæs.
  • Nouveau Riche: Viggo Skjold-Hansen has made money through a successful career as a lawyer, and has been able to enter the higher echelons of Korsbæk society by investing those money in various business around town. Compared to his more "old money" upper-class peers, Skjold-Hansen dresses in somewhat tacky suits and is notably very relaxed and casual in his manners to the point where he comes across as outright boorish and uneducated at times. This in contrast to Mads who fairly quickly adopts upper-class manners as his career takes off.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Herbert Schmidt, the exiled German Communist playwright and poet, resembles Bertolt Brecht, who spend some years in exile in Denmark in the Thirties.
  • No Party Given: Averted with Jørgen Varnæs (Conservative) and Lauritz "Red" Jensen(Communist).
    • In fact, we know what parties many of the characters vote for, as well. All the Varnæses and most of the other upper class characters vote Conservative, Elizabeth Friis and Doctor Hansen vote Social Liberal, Oluf Larsen votes Social Democrats and his wife Katrine votes Venstre.
  • No True Scotsman: Mr. Schwann keeps going on about how real ladies would never buy anything in Skjern's shop.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: How Colonel Hackel views himself. However, the fact that he is rather pompous, rough around the edges, and has quite the temper, especially when things are not going his way, means that he doesn't quite qualify.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Mads and Kristen, when Iben tells their Christian fundamentalist sister Anna that Mads' father-in-law has a picture of Dean Meyer (who Anna practically worships) hanging in his outhouse. It doesn't get better when the appalled Anna asks him why:
      Oluf Larsen: Because Dean Meyer is a huge shit!
    • Oluf Larsen, when he hears that Kathrine has allowed two German soldiers to use the outhouse (he's got a picture of Hitler hidden under the board).
  • Old Soldier: Colonel Hackel, who still wears his old uniform in public.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: The Varnæs family is talking about Hitler's death, when Misse steps in a mentions a death. The Varnæses asumes she's talking about Hitler too, but it turns out that she's talking about her husband, Professor Andersen. A Funny Moment for some people, especially on rewatch.
    • An earlier, less extensive example of this is when Maude, Elisabeth and Vicky are talking about how Maude needs to fire Miss Hollenberg because of her flirting with a German officer and Hans Christian comes home. Hans Christian immediately starts talking about how the government has been dissolved and martial law instituted by the Germans, which the women initially mistakes as Hans Christian having heard about Miss Hollenberg.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Fede" ("Fatty"), the painter is almost exclusively referred to by his nickname, even by his wife.
  • Parental Favoritism: Mads favors Ellen, because she's a good student. Inverting the Wicked Stepmother trope, as he is her stepfather, while his own son Daniel's stepmother is the only one that understand him.
  • Parents as People: Since the parents are more important characters than the children, especially in the start, this is played very straight.
  • Precision F-Strike: Most of the characters belong to the well-bred middle class, or aspires to be part of it. So when they swear it means they are genuinely angry or distressed. Most notably when Maude learns that her brother-in-law is getting divorced and screams "GET THE HELL OUT!!" to the maid.
  • Power Trio:
    • Elisabeth, Dr. Hansen and Kristen Skjern when they play music together and later when they do resistance work together
    • Violet Vinther, Mr. Scwann and Miss Jørgensen can be seen as one as well, often eating together and sharing gossip.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Professor Andersen was written out of the series due to the failing health of actor Helge Kjærulff-Schmidt. When filming some of his last scenes he literally came straight from his bed in the hospital and went back the moment he was done.
  • La Résistance: Dr. Hansen forms a resistance cell during the German occupation, together with, among others, Kristen Skjern and Elisabeth Friis.
  • Lethal Chef: Much is made of how terribly Iben cooked (or rather, didn't) a chicken.
  • Local Hangout: "The Railroad Restaurant" for the working class characters.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Mads and Kristen are the most obvious ones, but all the sibling pairs except Ulrik and Regitze fits.
    • Mads is very serious and economical, Kristen is more laid-back and fun-loving.
    • Hans Christian is a calm, appropriate man who always tries to live up to his obligations, while Jørgen is mostly concerned with having fun and easily discards both his wife and his ties to the family bank when it is required for him to continue to have fun with his mistress. They even share a character establishing moment in the first episode, where this exchange occurs:
      Jørgen: Are you never afraid you'll grow moldy?
      Hans Christian: Are you never afraid you're being too hasty?
  • Spirited Young Lady: Elisabeth used to be one. Maude and her get into fights about a prior relationship between Elisabeth and a poor violinist on several occasions, and it's noted that Elisabeth has a general history of getting into relationships with men her family disapproves of. Elisabeth also has a sarcastic demeanor about social convention that Maude comments was "much worse" when they were younger.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Elisabeth and Kristen are kept apart by the intense animosity between their families. It is a downplayed - perhaps more realistic - example of the trope, however, as they could get married even though their families oppose it. Elisabeth doesn't want to stay in Korsbæk, where their families' history with each other will make the situation complicated, while Kristen feels obligated to stay for Mads' sake. Discussed in "Opmarch":
    Kristen Skjern: Oh, all that family nonsense! We don't live in the time of Romeo and Juliet! And by God, we aren't 15 years old either, are we?
    Elisabeth Friis: No, definitely not.
    Kristen Skjern: And Korsbæk isn't Verona!
    Elisabeth Friis: No — and not the outside world, either.
    • Eventually reconstructed when they get together and their families reconcile.
  • So Bad, It's Good: In-universe. This seems to be Kristen and Elisabeth's reaction towards the singer in the 4th episode.
  • The Unfavorite: Mads dotes on his adaptive daughter Ellen, while being cold, distant and occasionally outright emotionally abusive towards Daniel, his biological son.
  • Undying Loyalty: Mr. Stein is extremely devoted to Korsbæk Bank and his boss, Hans Christian Varnæs. In turn, Hans Christian shows great respect for Mr. Stein and usually follows his advice. When Korsbæk Bank gets defaced with antisemitism directed at Mr. Stein, Hans Christian is outraged and makes Mr. Stein promise to contact him if Mr. Stein ever gets subjected to harrasment again.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Dr. Hansen and Colonel Hackel. Occasionally bordering on Ho Yay.
  • Wanted a Gender-Conforming Child: Daniel is always too nervous, emotional and creative for the no-nonsense businessman Mads. Ironically, he greatly favors Ellen who's ambitious and independent nature breaks with stereotypical feminine behavior.
    Mads Skjern: My son will not be a seamstress!
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Daniel longs for Mads' love and approval, but Mads treats him coldly and regards him as an Inadequate Inheritor, thinking his good and kind nature makes him too soft.
  • White Man's Burden: The storyline about smuggling Mr. Stein out of the Nazi-occupied Denmark to Sweden is in large part used as part of Maude's character developement and comes right after her son has told her that she's "never cared about anyone but herself." There are scenes shown from Mr. Stein's perspective, but the harrasment of him and his subsequent escape is largely framed around it's effect on Hans Christian and Maude.

Oh, and a "Graa Atlaskes" is a shiny grey party dress.