Oh, Elite, what a magnificent ride you were. And how I hate having to wait indefinitely for season four.
For a very long time, I resisted watching shows or films with subtitles. I tried once, many years ago–I went to an “art house” theater, to see a rerelease of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, and it just didn’t work for me. So, since then, I’ve pretty much avoided anything subtitled–which, of course, was robbing me of a lot of enjoyable film and television viewing. Ironically, my addiction to British crime television programs was what got me past the hurdle of subtitles; my hearing isn’t that great–never has been–and as I continue my slow descent into the grave it’s gotten progressively worse. I was having trouble understanding what was going on with a British show due to the accents–perhaps Broadchurch, or maybe Torchwood–so I turned on the closed captioning. Not only wasn’t it an issue, it was enormously helpful; and this was able to follow what was going on. It took a while for the lightbulb to go on that hey, if you don’t have a problem with closed captioning, you can probably handle subtitles–which led us to the marvels that are Spanish Netflix series. Toy Boy was amazingly fun; White Lines a little less so; and after we finished the final, incredibly disappointing season of 13 Reasons Why, someone suggested Elite to me. I know the kids at work watch–it pops on my Continue Watching queue all the time (they use my Netflix account on the big television in the meeting space), and so I suggested it to Paul; we decided we’d give it our old “one or two episodes” rule.
As if. Within ten minutes we were completely addicted.
It literally has everything.
And by everything, I don’t just mean beautiful young women and gorgeous young men–although it definitely has that.
I love the serial form; soap operas are simply continuing stories, and so are mystery series. I’ve always preferred ones that followed characters as they grew and changed and lived their lives; I read every Perry Mason book cover to cover and loved them all–but Perry, Della and Paul Drake were always the same in every book, nothing ever changed, and there was never anything personal about them. Maybe that would have spoiled the books, I don’t know–but series books which also followed the personal lives of the series characters were always my favorites; why I think the first six Trixie Belden books are better than the ones that followed, and why I think, overall, the Judy Bolton series was superior to Nancy Drew.
Nancy Drew never had to juggle marriage to an FBI agent and child care with trying to solve a mystery–but Judy Bolton did it and did it well. Nancy was an ideal, while Judy was real.
So, I thought I would enjoy Elite going into it. Set at an extremely expensive excellent school for the rich in Spain called Las Encinas, I was expecting teen angst and high school drama; Riverdale in Spanish, maybe, or Gossip Girl, which I never had any interest in watching. Sure enough, the opening episode, the traditional prep school conflict was set up, one we’ve seen a million times: the poor scholarship students vs. their wealthy snob classmates. An added touch is the scholarship kids are there because their public school collapsed due to shoddy construction, and for public relations purposes the construction company responsible set up the scholarships. The owner of that criminally negligent company is the father of Guzman, the stunningly beautiful Big Man on Campus. His direct opposite is poor waiter Samuel (in Spanish Sam-OO-well, and Samu for short). I’ve seen this is so many teen movies and shows–storylines recycled over and over again, with the subliminal message rich spoiled kids bad, struggling poor kids heroes.
Both are beautiful young men, aren’t they?
Samu’s two friends, Nadia and Christian, are the other two scholarship students. Nadia is a Muslim; her family are Palestinian immigrants who own and operate a corner store. Christian is a very pretty, devil-may-care muscleboy who just wants to have a good time, and isn’t a very good student.
Nadia is forced to remove her hijab while she is at school–one of the rich kids, determined to make the new kids’ lives miserable, has complained–and Christian’s clothes are stolen while he showers…so he puts his hands over his genitals and walks down the school hallway looking for his clothes. It’s a great scene, and when someone throws his clothes at him, he uncovers his genitals and rather sassily says, “This is what you want to see?” before going back and getting dressed.
The only rich kid who is nice to the new kids is Guzman’s sister, Marina.
She looked familiar to me–but I couldn’t place her; Paul figured out–recognizing her voice–that she played Triana in Toy Boy. But Marina, who the other rich kids derisively call a “hippie”–has her own problems and issues, particularly with her family and her father’s responsibility for the school collapse. Eventually, she and Samu begin a romance, that is complicated by the fact she is also attracted to Samu’s older brother, Nano–who has just gotten out of prison for drug dealing.
Guzman’s two best friends are Ander, who is a tennis prodigy and whose mother is also the headmistress of the school, and Polo. Polo’s has two mothers–and this isn’t a big deal to anyone, which is quite refreshing. Ander is very introverted and doesn’t really want to play tennis anymore, but his father keeps pushing him and he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents. Polo has some issues of his own…
Polo’s girlfriend since childhood is Carla, whose mother is a marquesa, a Spanish grandee, and their money comes from wineries. Both families are quite delighted that Polo and Carla are in love, and look forward to their eventual wedding. Despite being in love, Polo and Carla are looking to spice up their relationship–which they feel is getting a bit stale–and this launches one of the best storylines I’ve ever seen on a television show like this. Carla, who starts out kind of bland and undefined, soon became one of the most complex and brilliant female characters I’ve ever seen on television–the actress who plays her, Ester Exposito–is pitch perfect and amazing in the role.
The two remaining cast members are Lucrecia, who is Guzman’s long time girlfriend, and Nadia’s brother Omar, who is still going to a shitty public school.
Lucrecia is the bitch of the show; and originally comes off as unlikable. She always has an insult at the ready, has no problem with being a bitch just to be a bitch, is a snob, and hates that these “riff raff” kids are now at her school. She also is a bit of an exhibitionist–and that tendency also kicks off one of the major stories on the show. She likes to have sex with Guzman in public places where they might get caught–and in the first episode, they are in the girls’ locker room showers doing it when Nadia walks in on them. Since this is an honor code violation–and Lu is the top student in the class, vying for a chance to win a year at a school in Florida, which goes to whoever the best student is–she comes up with a plan to keep Nadia quiet: Guzman will seduce Nadia, and unless she keeps quiet, they’ll tell everyone. At this point, I knew how this would go–this is a classic teen storyline–but Elite subverts and turns all of these cliched plots and characters and makes them entirely original, with twists and turns–there is literally no way to predict what is to come; it’s brilliant.
Omar, Nadia’s brother, is the one the entire family burdens with everything; from working in the store to expectations of marriage. Omar is dealing drugs so he can get enough money to move out and live his own life…and through the drug dealing (weed, mostly) to the rich kids and a hook-up app, he and Ander find themselves outing themselves to each other–which kicks off yet another major storyline for the show, and probably one of the best depictions of a gay romance I’ve ever seen on a television program.
Much like How to Get Away with Murder, each season deals with a crime the kids are all involved with. The first episode opens with a shot of a stunned Samu, spattered with blood, walking up to a glass window. On the other side of the window the police are dealing with a dead body, and he places his bloody hand up on the glass–which brings the cops running to him; and then the show flashes back to the beginning, when he, Christian, and Nadia first arrive at Las Encinas. Unlike American shows, we learn who the victim was about halfway through the first season, and it’s a complete and utter shock. I have never seen a show that was so cleverly and intricately plotted, that kept my attention so fully, and kept surprising me.
And the quality–and excellent casting choices–never let up. In the second season we get some new characters: Cayetana, Valerio, and Rebe (Rebeka).
Valerio is Lu’s half-brother; Cayetana is apparently a jet-setter with a ridiculous amount of Instagram followers, and Rebe is a rough-around-the-edges girl whose family won the lottery. But all three of them are hiding secrets they are desperately trying to keep from their classmates–but are also great characters and do not detract from the brilliance of the show but rather add to it.
And each season has a crime at the heart of the story; and does the terrific back-and-forth in time thing to ramp up the suspense and keep you hooked.
The show has everything, literally: murder, kidnapping, drug dealing, sex, polyamorous relationships, gay relationships, incest, parents pimping out their kids, blackmail, cover-ups…and it’s so beautifully done, so brilliantly acted, that you care about every character as you learn more about them and why they are how they are; the love triangles are heartbreaking because you actually feel guilty for rooting for one couple to come together because you know how much the left out one will be hurt. Even the ones who do bad things–you feel for them.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s amazing. It was literally the highlight of every day we watched; I looked forward to every evening sitting down in my easy chair with Paul on his couch and tuning into Elite. It’s already been renewed for another two seasons, and I frankly can’t wait.