When I wrote about 13 Reasons Why, I spoke a little about my enjoyment of TV shows and movies that show the US high school experience. I won’t go over that again here, although I will mention that while watching Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, I asked my (American) wife for possibly the hundredth time, “So high school elections are really like this?!” as two characters vied for election. There’s so much about the system that just fascinates me. I would have enjoyed experiencing it.
ELITE, meanwhile is, “same same but different”. This is a Spanish TV series set around the fictional Las Encinas; “the most exclusive private school in Spain”. So on one hand, yes, there’s loads of familiar schoolroom scenes; there are jocks (although they tend to be swimmers, not footballers); there are mean girls; and there’s all the issues teenagers deal with. On the other hand, the kids are all in uniform (although the school’s dress code allows for a lot of customisation); they nearly all come from super-rich families (a bit 90210 in that respect); and naturally there’s a European vibe you just don’t get from a show set in, I dunno, Texas or something. Same same, but different, is the best way to describe it.
(Before I go on, just a note that there have been three series of ELITE at the time of writing this. A fourth is being produced – and who knows if there’ll be more after that – but just keep in mind anything I write here is series 1-3 related, if I don’t go mentioning Series 4 stuff, for example…)
What initially attracted me to ELITE was that there’s a mystery in play. Very similar to 13 Reasons Why, we learn from the very start that one of the students is dead and the rest of the series will be unraveling that. Also very similar to 13 Reasons Why, the victim is pretty, bright, bubbly – and the object of affection from some of the lead characters. This creates feelings for the viewer, just like the other series, whereby you know this character is dead, but then have to watch a whole series of them being very much alive – and a really great person – yet knowing that they don’t have long to live.
Outside of that character (Marina), we have the usual assortment of character types. Samuel, from a poor family and on a scholarship. Guzman, the hot-head and also Marina’s brother, so he’s extra hot-headed about her death. Lucrecia, the mean girl who is absolutely brazen about what she wants. Nadia, also a scholarship student and dealing with being what seems like the only Muslim in the school. Carla, another mean girl type but whereas Lucrecia is very hot-blooded, Carla is super cold and manipulative. And so on and so forth… all types you have seen before in shows like this.
The series is also very sexual – sometimes even to its detriment when you just want the story to move on – and while US series’ are increasingly headed that way too (the characters in Riverdale alone bonk for their country in virtually every episode these days), in ELITE the usual straight sex and increasingly common gay sex, is also joined by (less common by the standards of US series’) bisexual sex. Maybe it’s a “European thing”, but the show really pushes the boat out at times when it comes to this stuff. There’s even an incestuous half-brother relationship for one of the girls at one point. And no, it’s not an accidental, “Whoops, I didn’t realise we were related…” one. ELITE really goes for it with this stuff.
Something I can’t finish without mentioning is that ELITE sometimes feels a little more soap-opera than typical US fare on Netflix. I think this is because of – at least in part – the English dubbing. Although you can watch this in Spanish, I went for the dub. Like anime, I’m not a snob with this stuff and I feel you should be watching the action like a native language viewer, not reading the screen. So, English it is, and I can’t help but feel the voice actors are a little over the top with the way they deliver the lines, but that does create a kind of “guilty pleasure” viewing, just the same. I go with it. In fact I sometimes wonder whether the English language experience isn’t a little different to the Spanish experience. Obviously the story is the same, but the way it’s delivered… I have no idea if Spaniards watch the series with the same feelings or whether the delivery comes across differently to them.
To go back to 13 Reasons Why (and I do apologise for mentioning it so often, but it really is a kind of cousin to this series in so many ways), I feel the hooks to keep watching ELITE from series to series are strong and, whereas I would have been happy to have just watched the first series of the US series, I have felt genuinely compelled to gobble up each new series of the Spanish show as it always feels like it’s juggling more balls (and more interesting balls), at any given time. I also find myself caring more about the characters where, despite being in a big ensemble, they all feel quite unique and different and interesting. The series is really well written in that respect. So… yeah. If you like this kind of high school/murder/mystery/thriller type of series, and you’re down for it being set in Spain, with a slightly strange – but totally compelling once you get used to the voices – dub, give ELITE a try. I love it.