After watching the entire second season of Netflix’s teen drama Elite in two days, I feel the need to justify the hours spent holed up in my dorm blinking blearily at my laptop. Released on September 6, Elite’s second season is a primary example of a compelling teen drama. Elite centers around three low-income scholarship students who start attending an elite high school in Spain (the show itself is entirely in Spanish). Their lives, already difficult due to the classism they endure from their comically wealthy peers, become even more complicated when one of their classmates is murdered. The episodes constantly flash forward to snippets of the police interrogating the main characters, lending Elite the suspense of other murder mysteries like How To Get Away With Murder while still retaining the overall feeling of a series for young adults. This combination of juicy high school scandals and real-world trauma is what I believe makes Elite such a perfect contemporary teen drama.
And teen drama, it is. The relationships, extremely wealthy teenagers, and high school cliques are reminiscent of Gossip Girl, a show that is incredibly not up my Game of Thrones and Lost alley. As someone who has never really enjoyed teen dramas, I can attest to the fact that Elite is done so well that it can even entertain genre snobs. One of the focal points of Elite’s strength comes from its characters. The diverse set of protagonists deal with classism, Islamophobia, coming out, internalized homophobia, and the strict constraints of their religious parents. All of these societal issues are central plot points in the series, which has been particularly praised for its representation of Muslim youth—particularly hijabi Nadia (Mina El Hammani)—and LGBT relationships. Even characters who “have it all,” in the sense of being wealthy and non-minorities, are complex and struggle with loss, grief, mental health, and morality. Within just two seasons Guzman (Miguel Bernardeau), introduced as a bigoted antagonist, both endures grief after the death of his twin sister and grows through a complicated relationship with classmate Nadia. While his developments are not always steadily positive, Guzman’s arc culminates with him supporting former enemy and scholarship student Samuel. This character development exemplifies the way in which showrunners Carlos Montero and Dario Madrona commit themselves to the examination of the complexity of human beings, particularly teenagers who are still learning and growing.
Despite the serious issues it addresses and its dark subject matter, Elite is not an inherently depressing show that simply highlights the decay of human morality. Montero and Madrona avoid this potential by playing into the theme of most teen shows: relationship drama. The love triangles, frivolous flirting, and raucous partying allow the audience to take a breath in between the murder, interrogations, and emotional upheaval. This pacing keeps the viewer engaged but not quite so anxious.
Elite contains the drawbacks of any other fast paced, made-to-binge television show in that its plot points can seem unrealistic and its antagonists too maniacal. One character’s businessman father will do anything to stop students from revealing his wretched secrets—including ordering their maiming and murders. The inspector who investigates the various crimes throughout the first two seasons is pseudo-intuitive, provides no follow up on the questions she asks, and doesn’t treat the students like victims of trauma. While these are a few examples of the show’s weaker characters and plot points, Elite is not striving to be a faultless, Emmy-worthy, work of art. Instead, it works to be good at what it is: a genre-bender that toes the line between the superficial, when-do-they-have-time-to-do-their-homework world of classic teen dramas and the grit and suspense of crime television. Due to its focus on the diversity of the human experience and its examination of potential, Elite is an exemplary contemporary teen drama.