Elite
In just eight episodes, Netflix’s teen drama "Elite" will have you hooked on Spanish soap operas. (Illustration by Katie Moss, University of Kentucky)

Most people would agree that drama — along with partying high school students, petty cat fights, star-crossed lovers, blackmail and murder — is interesting to watch. With Netflix’s Spanish teen drama “Elite,” you get all of that rolled into one, and in a romance language to boot.

“Elite” tells the story of Samuel, Nadia and Christian, three working-class students whose high school mysteriously collapses. In an attempt to save face, the failed construction company gives the students scholarships to attend Las Encinas, a wealthy private school in Madrid.

Their mundane lives are thrown into chaos as they quickly learn that it is eat or be eaten in the glamorous world of their new classmates. They come face to face with Guzmán, the self-proclaimed ruler of the school, and his mysteriously defiant sister, Marina.

They must attend class with fiercely competitive Lu, tennis star Ander, calculating socialite Carla and unswervingly loyal boyfriend Polo. We soon discover that behind the smoke screen of glittering lights and Gucci handbags lies dangerous, closely held secrets that some would kill for … and some do.

The story begins after the murder of one the students at Las Encinas. Viewers don’t know who the murder is or their motive, nor do they know whom the unfortunate victim is until the end of the first episode. In between the classes, parties, hook ups, fights and secrets that led up to the fateful night, intense interrogation scenes are sprinkled throughout the season “Gossip Girl” style. Beware of the autoplay button; you’ll be through all eight episodes in no time with this mystery drama.

Each character has a motive and an alibi, and viewers are kept on the edges of their seats trying to figure out who the murderer could be. The significant other? The jealous classmate? The desperate street kid?

The story is slowly pieced together as friendships are formed and animosities arise, new lies pop up to cover old ones and love is unrequited. All the drama leads up to the finale of the murder scene itself, with viewers still left wanting to know what happens next.

While there is enough soap to fill a swimming pool in this high-end telenovela, “Elite” offers up some surprisingly touching moments between characters in the show, many of whom are siblings. Viewers see the testing of familial relationships when Guzmán does what he thinks is best to keep his sister safe, even though she doesn’t want anyone (and especially not her brother) to protect her.

Nadia and her brother, Omar, struggle to reconcile the values of their traditional Muslim parents with their own developing lives and identities. Samuel’s older brother, Nano, who was recently released from prison, has to figure out how to pay back his outrageous debts to dangerous men, and will do it by any means necessary.

“Elite” is a tangled web of connections and relationships, some of them well-developed and touching, and others shallow with little backstory or action to support them. An unexpected relationship forms between Omar, a drug dealer, and Ander, the picture-perfect athlete. While their connection is beautiful in its detailing the social and cultural challenges that confront them and the possibility of being together, the emotional extent of their connection is not deeply expounded upon and could benefit from more development.

On the flip side, a suspicious Nadia finds herself spending time alone with Guzmán, despite her father’s explicit orders not to do so. Guzmán’s scheme to embarrass her (one that was ill conceived and, honestly, just downright wrong) backfires when he discovers the real possibility of a friendship existing between them.

Lu exercises her privilege and authority by blackmailing anyone who gets in her way of being the top of the class, for no reason other than she has the power to do so, and Christian finds himself in more than one sticky situation brought about by his own poor, risky decision-making.

While the show oozes with chemistry in all of its romantic relationships and is definitely not lacking in steamy, intimate encounters, it could definitely use some development that expands beyond the physical elements of relationships and double-downs on the internal struggles each individual faces.

The acting chops in “Elite” are not to be trifled with. Every actor holds their own in this pack of talented men and women, skillfully developing individualized aspects of each character’s temperament, personality and style.

Guzmán isn’t just a mindless school bully; he strives to be a protector of those he loves because he feels he was unable to do so in the past. Lu isn’t just a blackmailing brat who kicks and screams when she doesn’t get what she wants; her boldness is a front to mask her insecurity and desire to be loved by someone who might not love her back. While Polo might appear to be a quiet, upper-class boyfriend, he struggles to feel worthy of Carla’s love and fights his potential attraction to someone else.

The students’ diversity of expression stems from their collective desire to be accepted and valued in their competitive high school world and in the toxic environments created by wealth and power.

If you decide to watch “Elite,” be sure to watch it in its original Spanish to truly experience the drama of the show. If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t let the language scare you off — just watch the show with English subtitles. The Spanish is beautiful, and it is powerful in conveying the true meaning of the script, even if you don’t catch every word.

The binge-worthy show, created by acclaimed Spanish writers Carlos Montero and Darío Madrona, is in its first season and is sure to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Keep an ear out for the promise of more drama and mystery in Season 2, coming to Netflix sometime in 2019.

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