TV & Movies

Three Reasons Elite is a Smarter, Better Riverdale

For starters, the storyline actually makes sense

A photo of two female private school students in navy blazers, one of whom is wearing a hijab

Elite’s Marina, left, and Nadia (Photo: Courtesy Netflix)

Between the increasingly depressing news cycle and rapidly decreasing selection of TV shows sans-problematic people, trashy teen dramas are about all I have the stomach to consume. So, when a friend brought to my attention a Riverdale-like show set in a Spanish private school, I simply couldn’t help myself. I binge-watched all of Elite’s eight-episode first season in a day. I’m disgusting, I know, but hear me out.

The Netflix original, which first dropped in October and was just renewed for a second season, follows a crew of private school kids and the drama that surrounds them—like a murder that happened on school grounds, and the who-done-it investigation that drives the show. We have the popular kids (and resident bullies), Lu and Gúzman, siblings Omar and Nadia, class clown Christian, privileged Marina and everyone in between. Together, they comprise the juiciest, sexiest, smartest teen drama I have ever sunk my teeth into.

Here, three solid reasons you should be more obsessed with these Spanish private school kids than the uninteresting teens of Riverdull.

Elite’s storyline is coherent and interesting

Don’t worry, dramz-lovers: Elite is downright bonkers in the best way possible, while still making actual sense. It’s a who-done-it story that bounces between the past and future, separated by eerie interrogation scenes à la How to Get Away with Murder (Shonda Rimes would be proud.)

On the other hand, we all know that Riverdale’s timeline makes absolutely no sense. First of all, the show begins with the juicy affair between Archie (K.J. Apa) and Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel), who subsequently disappears and loses relevance, only to be brought back and then murdered. After Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) is rescued from Sisters of Quiet Mercy, her mom—who sent her there—doesn’t even seem to care that she’s home again. And don’t even get me started with the Black Hood’s cop-out reveal, and subsequent “sike!” from the writers.

Sure, in the world of Élite, there’s no Black Hood or Gargoyle King equivalent, and the big reveal is a lot tamer and grounded in reality—albeit with superb build-up.

Elite gives *all* of its characters nuance and complexity

One of Elite’s most poignant plotlines involves Nadia (Mina El Hammani), a student who ranks in at the top of her class but is forced to remove her hijab at school as it supposedly interferes with her uniform. Through battling racism to confronting her own biases when it comes to her promiscuous peers, we get to see inside Nadia’s inner turmoil as she struggles to stay true to her religion while adhering to bogus rules to get the education she wants.

Riverdale’s cast is a lot more diverse than Elite’s, and yet it does half the work in addressing any nuanced inner conflict in relation to being Black, gay or Latinx. In fact, the show does a disservice to its shining cast, including characters like Kevin (Casey Cott) and Josie (Ashleigh Murray), whose experiences are often relegated to the sidelines. (Oh, and what ever happened to the Pussycats, anyways?)

Riverdale stans, don’t come at me, but here’s the tea, as astutely spilled by Angelica Jade Bastién in a Vulture essay that criticizes the show’s treatment of its Black characters. “It’s important to remember that black girls’ lives aren’t solely defined by racism,” writes Bastién. “We deal with romantic foibles, desires, and fears just as richly complex as the white leads this genre focused on to the detriment of the black girls coloring the margins.” In Elite’s world, Nadia is not boiled down to simply a woman who wears a hijab—she’s given the same amount of dimension as every other character. She plays a lead role, falls for one of the other lead characters, supports Omar (Omar Ayuso), her gay brother, in the face of their homophobic parents and struggles to maintain her identity while reaching the top of her class. She’s multifaceted—not just a Muslim woman who wears a hijab.

A teen couple in an embrace on the Netlifx series 'Elite'

Elite‘s Nano and Marina (Photo: Courtesy Netflix)

Elite is incredibly sex-positive

It’s hard to compare Elite and Riverdale in terms of teen sex as each handles it *so* differently, but the fact that sex is an afterthought in Riverdale is exactly what gives Elite the upper hand. Teenagers have sex. Teenagers are interested in sex. And Elite is full of realistic, lusty, beautifully intimate scenes that demonstrate the fear and nerves behind first-time sexual encounters, without overindulging in the perceived cluelessness of teens. Perhaps it’s a Spanish thing, but I dig it.

In contrast, the teens of Riverdale barely seem interested in sex. While the relationship between Cheryl and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) has easily been one of the most inspiring plotlines, they seem almost completely asexual (aside from one juicy makeout sesh under the glow of a projector when Toni rescues her GF from a nunnery.) When it comes to Archie and Veronica (Camila Mendes), we really only see them get intimate in scenes that seem plucked straight out of a fanfic. (Remember their epic fireplace sexytimes in season 2?)

Elite, on the other hand, leaves no stone unturned when it comes to sexual experiences. Characters Christian (Miguel Herrán), Carla (Ester Expósito) and Polo (Álvaro Rico) fall into a polyamorous relationship—and as someone who’s watched more than her fair share of angsty teen dramas, typically same-sex relationships only exist to gratify the male fantasy of lusting over two women. Similarly, as Christian and Polo struggle to understand their sexualities while fluctuating between being attracted to men and women, it’s never cliché.

Finally, enter the most tender love story of the ages—Ander (Arón Piper) and Omar (Omar Ayuso). Watching their chemistry on screen is as heartbreaking as it is nostalgia-inducing, as they both navigate their sexualities, Omar’s homophobic parents and the excitement of first love.

What’s more, the sex scenes in Elite don’t seem gratuitous or over-the-top—minus a particularly acrobatic scene between Lu (Danna Paola) and Guzmán (Miguel Bernardeau) in the locker room—nor do the various interwoven relationships, which, let’s be honest, tend to happen when you’re spending every single day with the same people. To make the show even more politically relevant, Elite also tackles the stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, as it follows a main character (Marina, played by María Pedraza) and her insecurities in dating after she contracts HIV from an old boyfriend.

In short, Elite falls into a category of teen drama that’s fun to watch without being mind-numbingly confusing. With the perfect dash of dark mystery brightened by the tenderness of first loves, this show is about a lot more than a murder—it’s a meditation on the growing pains of teenhood, a universally-relatable theme that gets lost in the overly complicated land of Riverdale.

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