A tantalizing plot isn’t the only lure of “Elite” as sophisticated characters lend depth, intrigue Review by Neva Legallet

Reminiscent of the cattiness and excessive affluence that has defined popular teen drama series like “90210” and “Pretty Little Liars,” “Elite” distinguishes itself among Hispanic television. A fantastically wealthy school, attended by some of Spain’s most spoiled, influential children, is the backdrop for a slowly unfurling tragedy, with a deliberately delayed pace fitting to the quintessential intrigue of a private school. Las Encinas, or “Fancyland” as the locals call it, admits three scholarship students after their own institution’s roof collapses during construction. Murder, treachery and deception characterize the plot development, which comes to fruition in tandem with the progression of the characters.

Executed carefully, the plot is still dangerously close to trite in its use of shadowy, gruesome flashbacks and interspersals of police interrogations. Making up for the commonplace format is the tantalizing progression of events—the murder victim isn’t revealed until the end of the first 45-minute episode—which is enticing enough that any pitfalls of the flashback style are excusable.

Adversaries from the beginning, Lucia and Nadia represent the extremes of Las Encinas.

Unique to “Elite” is the manner in which the students at Las Encinas convey much deeper, and darker, revelations about the significant cultural and socioeconomic differences of their society. “Elite” does pander to conventional teen shows in a myriad of ways, but the students’ infinitesimal world goes beyond gossip and sex to illustrate conflicts between the working class and the upper echelons of Spanish society. Although the distinction between the wealthy students and their scholarship-reliant counterparts is overplayed at times, it serves its purpose in making “Elite” one of the more genuinely realistic Spanish shows.

One student, Samuel, works waiting tables to support himself and his single mom while his older brother is in and out of jail. Subject to endless snide remarks and referred to as “the waiter,” his character nevertheless demonstrates an admirable integrity and earnestness lacking in many young adult protagonists. Among the rest of the cast, stereotypes abound, from the cruel, wealthy jock to the petty, well-styled popular girl. However, as the season progresses, unusual depth is unveiled, making “Elite” worth the initially conventional characters as their development shines through.

Opulence characterizes the lives of wealthy students, who are in direct contrast with the scholarship students coming from working-class backgrounds.

Some acts of so-called rebellion—the principal’s son buying a joint with sweaty, shaking hands and crumpled cash—have been seen before, and done before. “Elite,” though, captivates with individual storylines. That same principal’s son, for instance, introduces a theme not commonly explored in Hispanic media as he explores his sexuality and exposes masculine vulnerabilities typically shunned in portrayals of male athletes. Rougher characters, drug dealers and jailbirds alike, have their moments of vulnerability too, breaking the confines that commonly bind teen characters to the prescribed actions of stereotypes.

Outperforming tropes at each turn, “Elite” contrasts the grittiness of the blue-collar world with the champagne-drinking casualty of the rich with ease, infusing light-hearted subplots that reveal characters with a breadth surprising for their age and the show’s premise.


Photos courtesy of Netflix.

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