Netflix’s Spanish-language original series, Elite, follows the clash of teenagers at a school called Las Encinas, which is the most exclusive school in the country and to where the elite send their children to study. In the first season of the series, three middle to lower class teens have just been admitted after a landslide destroyed their school and their students had to be distributed by other institutes in the area. Of course, the traumatic crossing is not only for the three newcomers Samuel, Christian and Nadia, but also for the young students of the exclusive establishment who begin to live with another reality, from the economic to the social to the religious. And of course, when you add family and friends, what you have is a budding drama that is projected interesting from various perspectives. But this is not only teenagers trying to survive the typical teenage issues, there are also murders, corruption, struggle for social power, supremacy over others and doses of love, in various ways.
As to be expected from a teen soap series, there’s plenty of romance and drama to go around. There’s the obvious relationships, but, in this season it’s the friendship and sibling dynamics stand out in particular, feeling real, relatable and carefully thought out to make the viewer understand the complexity and loyalty of these characters. Samuel and Nano, the main brother duo, are constantly in a back-and-forth, loyal and loving of each other but also at odds, and always fighting, especially when it comes to Nano’s criminal activities. Closeted tennis player Ander struggles to come out to his best friend, even though he’s ultimately supportive. The strong character development is backed by strong performances from young actors with range and depth to carry such strong topics.
Itzan Escamilla’s portrayal of Samuel is spot on, he is just the right amount of sweet and jealous to make his character both a fan favorite and annoying. Jaime Lorente, who plays Nano, and María Pedraza, who plays Marina, have a chemistry that is undeniable and creates a whirlwind dynamic for the series. Miguel Herrán’s Christian is amazing in this funny, party-loving and energetic role. Miguel Bernardeau brings Guzmán to a different level, Arón Piper becomes an instant favorite as Ander, and Alvaro Rico’s Polo is cast perfectly as the weirdo with destructive behavior. Meanwhile, Mina El Hammani is a powerhouse in all of Nadia’s most emotional scenes and Omar Ayuso’s worried face helps make his scenes more powerful. Ester Expósito understands exactly what makes Carla such a fun, sensual, and alluring character. And Dana Paola’s portrayal of queen bee, Lucrecia, seems almost too perfectly cast to be true – I will never be able to see her in a different light.
Viewers get to go from the present time, wherein a detective investigates the murder of Marina to the months that lead up to her attack. Throughout the show, each character’s story line is explored. While the murder hook and the back-and-forth is what makes Elite instantly bingeable, the character storylines and development make this more than just another teen soap/murder mystery series. The characters quickly fall into their respective stocktypes, sometimes in admittedly predictable ways: the jerk falls for the good girl and vice versa, the queen bee is insecure, the bad boys are secretly sensitive. However, the show does a good job of challenging these stereotypes by throwing curveballs at the characters’ lives and making them “switch” positions in a sense. So, the sensitive guy has jerk qualities, and the good girl isn’t so good after all, etc. The greatest thing about the series is that not everyone is who they seem they are.
The biggest downfall is that the series encompasses so many edges at once that at times the viewer will be lost in a sea of stories. Nevertheless, Elite makes it a point to base these stories in issues that take precedence and importance in modern times. Take for example the story of Nadia. The young Muslim woman who must confront the prejudices against her culture and, entertainingly, how they collide with who she truly is and who she’s shaping up to be. She faces challenges everyday, not only because she is a woman and a teenager, but also because she is judged for her religion… a situation that is, unfortunately, very common. Adding details of reality helps add a different perspective to the show.
While far from original, in the sense that the series follows a similar plot line to that of Gossip Girl and Riverdale, the Spanish series goes above and beyond to stand out as different. They do a good job of keeping things interesting, sexy and relatable. I’m excited to see what happens next.