“Today they don’t want to do anything. They just want to be somebody…”
On October 5, 2018 Netflix premiered a Spanish series titled Elite. Three working class students are transferred to a wealthy high school where they cope with bullying, classism and romance. There’s also a murder to solve.
The writers have cherry picked the pulpiest bits of Cruel Intentions, How to Get Away with Murder and Riverdale to start. They add some nudity, some class warfare and a healthy dose of gay/bi/queer representation. Then they wisely distill it into 8 fast paced episodes. This makes it easy to binge and leaves you wanting more.
Veiled spoiler warning: I’d like to touch on some themes in the first four episodes. I’ll keep plot points vague and avoid the murder mystery entirely.
Earnest Samuel, academic Nadia and brash Christian are the protagonists who shake up the status quo at their new school. Each gets swept into a love triangle with the upper class students. Samuel’s fallen for a rebellious rich girl who will challenge his core values. Nadia’s being wooed by a playboy who doesn’t respect her hijab or her faith. It’s to the actors credit that I’m not bored by their drama.
What brought me to Elite was the GBQ rep. In four episodes there’s been more man on man action than anything poor Kevin Keller’s gotten on two seasons of Riverdale. Nadia’s brother Omar has a tropey gay romance with a closeted jock. Christian gets a more surprising story when the socialite he’s wooing invites him into a threesome with her eager boyfriend. What could have been a one-off joke is developing into a power throuple. I’m finding this the most interesting plot line in the show.
Elite is set in a world of hierarchies. Class work is graded on a curve, pitting the top students against each other and ignoring the rest. The wealthy students are being groomed for their parents’ corporations. The students involved in the drug trade are caught in a maze of suppliers, dealers and debt collectors. Samuel keeps his head down waiting tables at a diner. He doesn’t understand why his friends can’t do the same. They remind him that racial minorities and ex-convicts have a tougher time getting hired than he does. Even at his income level he has privilege. I appreciate how the writers have woven these themes into the fabric of the show.
I quit Riverdale when things got too bleak. Once the protagonists became as corrupt as the antagonists there was no one left to root for. As I continue Elite I know the murder plot will take focus and potentially destroy the survivors lives. But at the mid-point there is still hope. The rich kids are warming up to their new peers and the protagonists are finding their confidence. The forced integration of the two societies has led to moments of self-reflection and compassion. When the show is feeling optimistic it suggests differences can be overcome with a shared homework assignment, a party invitation… or the occasional threesome.
Do you have a Netflix account and some free time? You can watch Elite with subtitles or an audio dub. Check it out and share your spoiler tagged thoughts with me in the comments.
Film and Television Reviews