As with any teen soap, there’s plenty of romance, but on the relationship front, the friendship and sibling dynamics stand out in particular, feeling real and carefully thought out. Samuel and Nano are constantly in a back-and-forth, fiercely loyal to and loving of each other but also at odds, especially when it comes to Nano’s criminal activities. Closeted tennis player Ander (Arón Piper) struggles to come out to his best friend, even though he’s ultimately supportive. And the strong character development is backed by strong performances from young actors with range. Bernardeau brings depth to Guzmán, and El Hammani is powerful in all of Nadia’s most emotional scenes. Expósito understands exactly what makes Carla such a fun, alluring character.
Despite the fancy events where glammed-up teens drink and party with luxury, Elite isn’t as reminiscent of Gossip Girl as it is The O.C., which similarly, was sharp and layered in its depiction of the conflict that class structures breeds among teens. Rebellious Marina (María Pedraza), Guzmán’s little sister, is caught between the two brothers and also between the two worlds, born into the rich and powerful but more empathetic to the new kids at school than any of her peers, feeling out-of-place at her own debutante party, constantly falling in love with boys her family doesn’t approve of. Elite is gritty in its portrayal of class tension. Marina refuses to fit into the binary world of Las Encinas, and she’s ultimately punished for it.
As Netflix continues on its all-in approach with genre films and series, the Spanish soap is likely to be lumped in with more problematic American originals focused on teen hardship, like 13 Reasons Why, or even Insatiable. But Elite, full of nuance in its discussions about class, privilege, and sexuality, doesn't have to be relegated to yet another guilty pleasure. Just, please: Watch it with subtitles.