Netflix Original Elite is the latest teen drama sensation to come from the hive mind of Netflix and right from the off, it’s obvious the show draws inspiration from a whole host of other sources. There’s elements of Riverdale, Gossip Girl and 13 Reasons Why here but unlike those shows, Elite fails to really inspire likability with its large cast and in doing so, makes much of the story play out far more passively than it should. While there’s some interesting thematic material here and some socially challenging questions around class and sexual diversity, Elite doesn’t do enough to carve its own place in this over-saturated genre.
The story begins at the end of our story; a murder has taken place and a police detective begins interviewing visibly shocked teenagers that could have committed the crime. It’s a bold opening and one that manages to grip you immediately but not before thrusting you into a class war between the rich and poor, sparked by the arrival of three students to one of Spain’s most illustrious private schools, Las Encinas. Book smart Nadia, shy but level-headed Samuel and brash Nano shake things up at the school and inevitably tensions flair up as the wealthy, popular kids clash with the new arrivals.
With an equal emphasis on both sets of characters, Elite doesn’t have a focal protagonist as such but most of the drama and mystery revolves around the death of one particular character whose identity is revealed at the end of the first episode. With 8 episodes at around 50 minutes a piece, Elite is not as long winded or drawn out as other foreign dramas and some of this is partly thanks to the way the show jumps between the present and past to answer the most important question hanging over the show – who committed the murder?
As the episodes progress, the attention jumps a lot more sporadically around the different groups of characters as the popular kids get an equal amount of screen time and their own character arcs. There’s just enough to see you through to the end but along the way expect plenty of sex, drama, arguments, blackmail and deception to keep the series consistently unpredictable through to the tantalizing finale and final scene of the last episode.
While the story itself unfolds well, with a good variety of twist and turns along the way, it’s ultimately Elite’s exhaustive list of characters that lets the show down from being as good as it could be. While there’s no denying a lot of them have a really good arc and interesting storylines, it’s also really difficult to empathise and get behind any of them. From arrogant and smug to shy and silently deceptive, almost all of the students have a dominating negative trait clouding their personality, keeping us at arm’s length rather than drawing us in. While this helps bring an ever-rising level of drama to the table, it also makes it nigh on impossible to get behind and really root for the characters. This is particularly a problem for Guzman, Nano and Christian who all have their own share of deeply personal problems that should be full of emotionally charged sympathy but instead, it just feels passively soap-opera to watch.
Whether you take to Elite or not will be solely dependent on your level of tolerance with teen dramas. Those turned away from Gossip Girl and Riverdale should probably keep looking as Elite is unlikely to really fire up the imagination and stand out next to some of the biggest names in this genre. Despite a well paced and oftentimes surprising storyline, Elite falters when it comes to its characters that just don’t do enough to stand out and actually feel like people we’d like to root for and empathise with. It’s a shame too as there’s definitely potential here but Spanish Original Elite doesn’t do enough to keep us invested in the long term. Still, given the way the show ends it’ll be interesting to see if this gets snapped up by Netflix for a second season and with a bit more thought and empathy put into the characters, Netflix could be onto another teen hit, flaws and all.