There’s throuples, forbidden couples, corruption, robbery, revenge and murder – what else do you need?
Imagine the elevator pitch for Netflix’s new show Elite. The Spanish teen drama-slash-murder mystery is a gluttonous buffet of themes: there’s commentary on social class, Islamophobia, homosexuality and HIV. Its characters experiment with drugs, discover polyamory, struggle with surprise pregnancies, and become well-versed in the art of betrayal.
The rollercoaster storyline is hard to summarise succinctly, but in essence, the show follows the lives of the pupils of Las Encinas, the most exclusive private school in Spain. After a local, much poorer, school’s roof collapses, the construction company who built it pays for three working-class children to join the rich kid haven. Integration proves difficult at first. Sweet Samuel, our unassuming lead, is bullied for being a struggling waiter by Guzman, whose father actually owns the construction company that built their old collapsed school. Samuel falls for Marina, Guzman’s charismatic and socially conscious sister. We learn all of this and more in the first episode, and then while we’re still getting acquainted with their complex lives, the end of the episode reveals that we’re actually watching a flashback.
There are so many reasons why to binge watch this show – here’s just a few.
EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS EXCESSIVE
Elite is extra. Their get-togethers are closer to the Met Gala than Project X, and are attended to by paparazzi who want to catch a glimpse of the Spanish nobility. When money and freedom are in endless supply, much of the drama is fuelled by the fact that small gripes quickly turn into full-scale warfare. These teenagers have the intelligence and means to go for the jugular.
Almost immediately after starting at the school, Nadia, a Muslim, working-class student who is a well-behaved overachiever, quickly rises to the top of the class. Her success eclipses Lu’s, whose reputation is built on her calculated and callous nature. So naturally, Lu’s first order of business is to subject Nadia to a dehumanising burka ban on school property. Soon we learn that Lu’s modus operandi is to play dirty to get whatever she wants, manipulating everyone – even her teachers – by exploiting her impressive contacts. Her input basically summarises the entire series as she goes from one far-fetched petty reaction to the next. It’s that melodrama that gets you hooked and makes you question… where the hell are the parents?
What’s a teen drama without sex? Everyone in the show is young and beautiful, so obviously the writers have devoted a lot of the plot to sexual tension and romance. From the offset, Christian sets himself up as the class clown, unfazed by the differences between him and his new rich classmates. They try to bully him by stealing his clothes while he showers in the school gym, but he embraces it and struts through the hallways. “Enjoy the view,” he says. “You wish you had this ass.” There’s throuples, cuckolds, sex scenes in the show, sex scenes in the pool. Even straight-laced Nadia ends up giving Guzman flirtatious looks in his pool after accidentally taking pills at a party.
BUT IT’S NOT JUST SALACIOUS – IT’S ALSO SEX POSITIVE
When one of the characters reveals that she has been living HIV, it’s not sensationalised; instead, the plot educates teen audiences about living with the condition. Despite the jam-packed story, the writers manage to slip in key facts about the virus – namely, how it is undetectable in this character’s system, and can’t be transmitted. This goes some way to showing that the hardest thing about living with the condition, post-medication, can be the stigma that sufferers carry.
Meanwhile, other characters engage in a throuple, demonstrating how all of their needs can be met in a polyamorous arrangement with boundaries, communication, respect, and consent. Take notes, She’s Gotta Have It. Their encounters serve as a vehicle for preppy Polo, who has been dating Carla for years, to explore his bisexuality with people he trusts.
THE LGBTQ STORIES ARE INTERSECTIONAL, NOT SENSATIONAL
Elite sensitively shows what a difference having supportive friends (and wealth) can make to your coming out. Tennis protégé Ander starts off feeling like coming out will cause troubles for him in the hypermasculine world of sport – but eventually, he believes it could be a good opportunity for him to expand LGBTQ representation in sport, saying he could become the first openly gay winner of the French Open. Meanwhile, Nadia’s drug-dealing brother Omar’s thoughts are much more about survival: he needs to sell more drugs to secure the means to leave home if he is shunned by his Islamic family. When Ander and Omar’s disparate worlds collide, the consequences differ greatly: Omar stands to lose a great deal more.
THERE’S UNDERLYING COMMENTARY ON CLASS DIVISION
The disparity in wealth between the new students and their cohort is emphasised throughout the show. One heartbreaking scene shows Samuel being humiliated at a charity function when the guests see the tag on his suit jacket. His rich girlfriend Marina, meanwhile, resents her own status – in the first episode, she sulks as her family plan her birthday, as she feels it is just another chance for her father to flaunt his enormous wealth. She sees herself as a Robin Hood figure, wanting to expose her father’s corruption.
Where the show could have come off as a tacky class war, it saves itself by emphasising how teen pressures impact you differently depending on the intersection of social class, race, and religion. We stan an intersectional, steamy teen soap with a left-wing message.