Kalikman: Your Best Bet for Binging: Elite
Recently a friend forwarded me a clickbait article titled “Enjoyment of Trash Films Linked to High Intelligence.” It was quite the back-handed compliment.
I received this message after spending a week immersed in the world of “Elite,” Netflix’s new Spanish language show. Only recently have Spanish-language shows become a hit in the US among non-spanish speaking audiences. Take the recent blockbuster success of “Money Heist” (Casa de Papel), for example.
I had the strangest sense that I had seen some part of this show already. I soon realized that the show felt familiar because it takes the best tropes from similar trashy, teen, and murder-mystery shows, and snowballs them into one beautiful, dramatic program. Imagine the unrealistically attractive high schoolers of “Gossip Girl” plus the murder and intrigue of Season 1 “Veronica Mars,” multiplied by the time-jumping narration of “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Big Little Lies” (minus the marital woes and young children). Oh and add a dash of “Cruel Intentions” for its backstabbing teenagers. This glorious combination hits the sweet spot at the center of all these shows, and adds a little telenovela flair.
The plot centers on an elite prep school in Spain that is rocked when three students from a poor barrio join in with the creme de la creme. They arrive after the roof of their public school falls down. Their tuition is funded by the father of one of the wealthy students, the owner of construction firm that made the building. It turns out he knew about the faulty construction but ignored it, the implication being that it didn’t matter to him. Soon, it is revealed that there has also been a murder. Class conflicts emerge and drama ensues among the students. Friendships, romances, and family bonds are tested.
The show is marked by standout characters including Nadia (Mina El Hammani), a Spanish-Palestinian student with big aspirations who is forced to take off her hijab in order to attend the high school. Rather than being a throwaway one-note character, she exhibits complexity. I’m also a big fan of Marina (Maria Pedraza), one of about half the cast members from “Money Heist” that also ended up in “Elite.” She plays the rebel who derides her rich and famous family and instead prefers to spend time with the new public school students. But she’s got a few big secrets to hide as the police investigate the murder of one of the students.
Part of why “Elite” works as well as it does is that it begins with recognizable tropes that make the viewer feel comfortable, but contorts them into a more unique set of characters and scenarios.
I cannot truthfully say this is a good show. It’s trashy and doesn’t require thinking past the surface-level. But it’s well-made trash. It’s fun because deep down many of us wish our high school had been as exciting and dramatic and glamorous. High school, for me at least, consisted mostly of long hours of solitary studying, but it’s a wonderful escapist fantasy to imagine complicated love triangles and a huge gala every weekend.
As the world increasingly seems like a scarier place, between nuclear threats from North Korea, a president who seems to have broken dozens of laws, as well as the many problems at Yale students are fighting against everyday, sometimes you just have to turn your brain off a little and sit back. I at least claim the show is educational because I watch it in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. At the very least, it’s better than mindlessly scrolling through your phone. It’s also completely made to binge – a friend I recommended the show to told me he watched the whole season in one feverish night. So if you’re looking for something just a step up from “Riverdale,” this is your best bet.