Why 'Elite' On Netflix Is An Even Better Teen Drama Than 'Gossip Girl'
The person on the Netflix marketing team who came up with the idea to brand Elite as the Spanish Gossip Girl should probably be awarded that big, hideous trophy from the show, because the comparison is pretty apt. In Elite, three working class students are transferred to a ritzy prep school, where they're forced to navigate snobbery, sex, and plenty of scandal. But before you spurn Elite for lack of originality or refuse to watch it out of deference to its predecessor, I'm here to inform you, former Upper East Siders, that when it comes to a few key points, Elite is actually better than Gossip Girl.
For a girl from Upstate New York, no one was more obsessed the Upper East Side than I was. I watched Gossip Girl live when it aired, read every single book, and still passionately believe myself to be — to this day — a Serena, not a Blair. But even I have to admit, the show was far from perfect. Looking back on it over a decade later, there were plenty of areas which could have been improved upon, and I'm not just talking about Jenny's raccoon eye makeup. Here are 5 ways Elite is better than my beloved Gossip Girl.
1. Cheesy Dialogue Just Sounds Better In Spanish
It's no secret that most of the lines on Gossip Girl were served with extra cheese. Not that it makes them any less terrific, but it does make it hard to watch with anyone who's not a diehard GG-er themselves.
The dialogue on Elite is equally corny, but everything just sounds so much smoother in Spanish. When Blair and Nate used to say "always have, always will" like every five seconds, I almost got a cavity from the saccharine sweetness of it all. But when Carla tells Polo that she loves him "mas que nunca," it just sounds so much cooler and more sophisticated.
2. There's A Throuple That Doesn't Cater To The Male Gaze
The episode where Dan, Vanessa, and Olivia (played by Hilary Duff) decide to make Olivia's last night at NYU one to remember by engaging in a good ol' fashioned menage-a-trois was iconic. But while the episode might have been groundbreakingly risqué, it was also more than a little problematic.
The entire Gossip Girl threesome happens merely so that Dan can realize that he doesn't really like Olivia after all, and would rather be with Vanessa instead. That's not exactly fair to either of the women involved, both of whom already understood their feelings before they jumped into bed together.
Carla, Polo, and Christian's relationship is much more nuanced. All three of them clearly understand the rules of their situation, and why they're doing it: Carla and Polo are endgame, and they want to spice things up, while Christian is in it for the sex and the networking opportunities. And while at first it seems like Carla's the glue holding them together, the situation escalates beyond that, as illustrated in the soon-to-be iconic moment when Carla flips off her mother the marchioness while Polo and Christian French kiss in the background. Everyone is getting something out of this relationship.
3. Marina Doesn't Get A Redemption Arc
As I mentioned, I will always be a loyal Serena fan, but the girl messed up a lot. Like, a lot. She repeatedly made bad decisions: partying way too hard, having an affair with a married man, bailing on her friends, lying non-stop. The list goes on. But still, whenever she had been especially awful and gotten herself into real trouble, her friends would show up to save her beautiful butt, no matter what she'd done to them.
Marina, on the other hand, jumped head-first into an extremely Serena-like spiral by the end of Elite Season 1, making some pretty ill-advised decisions and betraying most of her family and friends in the process. And in the end... well, there was no one there to save her. I'm not saying that the punishment fit the crime, but it was a more interesting storytelling choice to have Marina's terrible choices catch up with her, rather than to save her just because she's so beautiful and sweet. In this sense, Elite wasn't afraid to take a storytelling risk that Gossip Girl never could.
4. The Show Actually Cares About Diversity
Issues of ethnicity were never central to Gossip Girl, in which six out of seven of the main characters are white. If the series had been made today, the cast would have likely looked very different.
Not only does Elite feature two characters of Muslim background as part of the core cast, but it makes issues of culture clash central to the main story. Granted, the series isn't always perfect in its portrayal — Nadia and Omar's father starts to play right into the archaic stereotype of the controlling, conservative Muslim father toward the end — but Nadia and Omar themselves are rich, complex characters, with a unique set of problems and motivations.
5. The Pacing Will Keep You On Your Toes
When it came to setting up each season, Gossip Girl had a challenge in adhering to the strict network guidelines of 24 episodes of 40 minutes each. But thanks to Netflix's flexibility, Elite had more freedom to tailor its length and number of episodes to fit the story it wanted to tell. The result is a season that's jam-packed with drama and plot twists.
In an interview with Variety, Elite producer Francisco Ramos explained that he's enjoying the creative flexibility that comes with making TV for a streaming platform. "This is a lot of fun," he said. "With the golden age of series, I can now achieve in TV what I wanted to do with movies in the last few years."
No one does drama better than high schoolers, so it makes sense that the high-pressure settings of elite prep schools consistently make for entertaining stories. While Elite might invite plenty of comparisons to Gossip Girl, Gossip Girl itself wasn't without its own inspiration. Author Cecily Von Ziegesar admitted to New York magazine that she actually took the inspiration for her book series from Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence. And Age of Innocence no doubt had its influencers before that.