Netflix’s ‘Elite’ Overturns Teen Drama Clichés with Style

By Luke Footman

Winter is fast approaching and we can all feel the bitter cold in the mornings when we inevitably have to leave our beds. This can mean only one thing, to snuggle in bed during the evenings with snacks and a warm drink whilst watching a brand-new show on Netflix. I recently finished Elite, a Spanish teen drama, on the popular streaming service.

The episodes are tied together with a murder mystery leaving enough intrigue at the end of each episode to make it binge-worthy. However, there is enough drama going on in the characters’ lives to keep the audience hooked, therefore, making the murder mystery a bonus. Elite’s real credit lays within the story and depth of the characters it portrays, which cannot be said for other teen dramas in the same category.

Elite is centred around the fictional exclusive private school Las Encinas where three working-class teens acquire scholarships after the roof of their public-school caves in due to poor materials used in its construction. The clash between them and the wealthy students leads to tension and ultimately the murder.

Within the first few episodes, scholarship kids Samuel (Itzan Escamilla), Christian (Miguel Herrán), and Nadia (Mina El Hammani) find themselves at the epicentre of three classic storylines. Samuel falls head over heels for the school’s rebel child Marina (María Pedraza), a lost adolescent juggling with her identity and negative outlook on her chic life of luxury. This is due to the fact her father owned the construction company that dealt with the scholarship kids school where the roof had fallen through. In later episodes, it is revealed that this was not a confined incident, but that it had happened at other public schools built by her father’s company. Outwardly, this storyline of rebellious teen girl drama seems recycled and overdone, but in Marina’s case we later find out that she is also HIV Positive and struggling with a lot more in her personal life than most of her other wealthy friends. It further examines the divide with her family because they are unwilling to accept her diagnosis.

Marina’s older brother Guzmán (Miguel Bernardeau) is at first glance the show’s rich privileged jerk, however it is later shown that he does have a heart of gold, which makes him the perfect match in teen drama style for taking up a bet with his high maintenance girlfriend Lu (Danna Paola) of seducing the most unlikely girl to fall for him. In this case, that means Nadia, a quiet student who is just doing her best to be the “good Muslim girl” her father expects her to be in peace despite Lu’s taunting and the school’s insistence that she remove her hijab, which they erroneously dismiss as “an accessory”.

Christian, meanwhile, is seduced by the school beauty Carla (Ester Expósito). Insert your teen drama cliché of the love triangle involving her jealous boyfriend Polo (Álvaro Rico). A love triangle is arguably the most common and stale teen tropes, but the Élite version takes a forward-thinking turn of events. Carla, who is bored in her relationship lures Christian in because she and Polo get off on having a third party in the mix. Both men are so devoted to her and curious enough about each other that they are down to see where it goes.

Moreover, there is a second love triangle between Marina, Samuel, and his brother Nano (Jaime Lorente) – who has just been released from jail. The shows unique subtext of crisscrossing desire only adds to the tension, coupled with creative cinematography and the audience is transported into a world with no rules.

Elite also finds room to explore sexuality through Ander (Arón Piper) and Omar (Omar Ayuso) – Nadia’s brother. These are two closeted teens who find each other on a dating app. Ander is the principal’s son while Omar is Nadia’s brother. My favourite part of this whole show is the fact Elite does not portray this love story out of shame. Even though the young men continually hide their identities for the most part of the series, the two men face few obstacles compared to other teen dramas that explore sexuality. The show explores religion in this sense because Omar must face the hurdles of being a conservative gay Muslim. What’s more, when their best friends — Guzmán and Samuel — realize they’re gay, neither react with shock or revulsion. Rather, they’re just sad that their friends didn’t feel comfortable telling them as much in the first place. I feel like this incorporates a much fresher approach for a modern audience to relate with.

Lastly, the conclusion manages to be both satisfying and endearing as to where season 2 — which Netflix has already ordered — might go. Also, a side note; Netflix has the English audio on default with non-English shows. I would recommend turning this off and having English subtitles as it is more authentic and the audio matches the words being spoken.

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