I’m the worst person to sit through a serious movie with. No, really — if I want to, I can laugh through just about any non-comedic movie or show. My dad likes to say I have a real knack for “turning everything into a comedy”: action movies, romances (that are decidedly not rom-coms), horror films, you name it. It’s a terrible habit of mine, but it’s usually set off by how disconnected I feel from the piece itself — if the acting is soap-opera-esque, or the writing is remotely sub-par or it includes one too many action sequences, you’ve lost me.
Despite the fact that I find “Elite,” a thrilling Spanish murder-mystery series on Netflix, to be well-written and well-executed, with mysteries chock-full of suspense and balanced complexity, its short story episodes make for one hell of a comedy. Even though it is very much not a comedy. Right?
“Elite Short Stories” is a new spin-off of the hit drama’s third season. The seven short story episodes delve into the lives of different characters and act as bonus content to the show itself.
I initially watched “Elite” with my sister in spring 2020; since I had an AP Spanish exam to ace, we watched it sans-English subtitles, missed half of the dialogue and guessed the plot from context clues. I had very few expectations going into the short stories and was genuinely surprised by the cream of the crop: Guzmán (Miguel Bernardeau, “Dafne and the Rest”), Cayetana (Georgina Amorós, “Locked Up”) and Rebeka’s (Claudia Salas, “La Peste”) episode. Maybe my sense of humor is beyond repair at this point, but I laughed so hard watching their episode that my face got that crinkly stiff feeling of smiling too hard, like a toothache from infectious humor.
To the best of my recollection, Guzmán, Caye and Rebe have never interacted in any way, shape or form. They are possibly the most random grouping of characters to throw into a room together, which is perhaps why every one of their scenes is pure, unadulterated chaos. Essentially, Rebe invites Guzmán and Caye over for what she keeps calling “the party of the century,” and in order to make good on that promise, gets everyone to eat from a special cake that leaves them high as kites. Everything is fine and dandy until Guzmán discovers that Rebe’s mother is still selling drugs. And things devolve into outright chaos once armed men show up at the house looking for the drugs the trio just found hidden in the closet.
One aspect that works so well is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Rebe accidentally knocks Guzmán in the face with a fire extinguisher while trying to ward off intruders. Instead of dialing, Caye repeatedly yells at her phone “¡Siri, llama a la policía!” to no avail. Rebe says her mother is opening a speakeasy, and Guzmán sincerely asks “She’s starting an academy for English?” In under 30 minutes, they’re able to pack in more comedy and excitement than entire seasons of television. Not a single line in the episode goes to waste and every bit of their overlapping, fast-paced dialogue packs a punch.
But the real gift that keeps on giving is the unceasing ball of chaotic energy that is Cayetana. For most viewers of the show, Caye is not exactly a fan-favorite. Her introductory plot line makes her come off at times as slightly pathetic, as she goes to great lengths to obscure her lack of wealth from a student body that resides in the top 1% in order to “fit in.”
Nevertheless, I found myself increasingly drawn to Caye’s star power. Rebe is known for her cheeky one-liners and Guzmán has a playful puppy dog energy when he’s not mourning the murder of his sister at the hand of his best friend. Yet, Caye really steals the spotlight here. Amorós is a force to be reckoned with, and frankly, I’m annoyed at the writers for not giving her better material to work with sooner: She simply does not miss a beat. The physicality of her comedic acting is top-notch as she clings to Rebe and Guzmán, her intoxicated state dismantling what little mirage she had left. And while the two of them argue over whether to hand over the drugs or hide, it’s Caye, who spent the vast majority of the episode looking dazed and confused, that steps up and saves the day.
“Elite” took a risk here with Caye to substantiate considerable growth and depth to her personality, and it paid off. She single-handedly carries the bulk of this episode’s ability to transcend beyond mildly humorous one-liners to consistently, absurdly funny television.
For once, maybe I’m not just the only one laughing in the crowd or giggling at bad acting, but appreciating the comedic genius of a show well aware of its own enigmatic nature. Because there is something special about the way “Elite” leans into the ridiculousness without forgoing its own virtuosity. In a highly climactic scene, Caye accidentally stabs Guzmán in direct parallel to the show’s season three finale, at which point it becomes abundantly clear that “Elite” is openly parodying itself. Rebe’s immediate reaction is exasperation, as she frets “You’ve gotta be kidding. Another murder? We’ll have to testify. We just never learn. I can’t take it anymore.” Evidently, “Elite” isn’t prompting viewers to laugh at the show, but to laugh with it.
“Elite” is not having an identity crisis, but is rather delving into a playfulness usually reserved for works of art with an unwavering sense of self. Think Mitski’s “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” being named after a “The Simpsons” joke or Phoebe Bridgers’s “Stranger in the Alps” after a TV-censored line of crude humor in “The Big Lebowski.” “Elite Short Stories” is an exploration of the show’s own potential. It has the bandwidth to poke fun at itself and relish in its comedic capacity, because above all else, this is a show that knows exactly what it is. I, for one, can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of the article did not mention that “Elite Short Stories” is a series of seven episodes. This clarification has been added above.