Sunday, May 26, 2024

Young Royals Enlivens the Modern Teen Drama

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Following the likes of Elite and Blood and Water, Netflix’s Young Royals is the streaming service’s latest international teen drama. However, it is very much unlike its predecessors, abandoning some traditional tropes that are a part of the genre in favor of a more authentic look into the characters’ stories and personal struggles.

There are no unrealistically exclusive cliques, no disturbing student-teacher relationships, and the show is more focused on the development arcs of its characters than it is on creating petty drama between them. The series also offers up a sweet yet heartbreaking romantic subplot that diverges from the typical love triangle formula that so many teen shows are weighed down by.

What is Young Royals?

The six-episode season follows the fictional Prince Wilhelm “Wille” of Sweden (Edvin Ryding) as he is pulled out of his public school and life by his parents to study at Hillerska, the same boarding school his older brother and crown prince Erik (Ivar Forsling) attended a few years prior to the beginning of the story. Erik entrusts Wille to August (Malte Gårdinger), a cousin of the royal family in his third year at Hillerska who is determined to give Wille the true experience that all the elites at the boarding school take part in.

Despite August’s determination to fold Wille into his crowd of high-society friends, Wille becomes friends (and more) with Simon (Omar Rudberg), a non-boarding student at Hillerska who attends the school with his sister, Sara (Frida Argento). Wille is also reunited with his childhood friend Felice (Nikita Uggla), who is trying to live up to the expectations her family has for her much like he is.

three young royals characters
From left to right: Erik (Ivar Forsling), Wille (Edvin Ryding), and August (Malte Gårdinger)
The Unlikely Pairs of Young Royals

The relationship that forms between Wille and Simon is marked by a constant current of mutual yearning that lasts throughout the entire season. Their scenes together are full of close-up shots that create an intimacy between the two that is tied to all of their interactions throughout the series, and that closeness is one of the most compelling parts of their relationship. Nothing about their relationship feels forced, and the chemistry between the two never fails to deliver.

In yet another divergence from the rest of popular teen dramas, the miscommunications that the two have throughout their relationship aren’t ridiculous and unreasonable. The only thing holding them back in the first three episodes is their own self-doubt about their feelings for each other, something that is refreshingly realistic in a sea of shows that go more over-the-top with the relationship drama. The lack of a true love triangle also works out amazingly because Wille and Simon’s relationship isn’t caught up in drama with other people until after it has time to flourish.

We’re able to see them get together without the weight of every other character’s story on top of them, and they are only collectively dragged into drama after they finally get together. In most shows, a relationship being tested immediately after it finally settles would be annoying, but in this case, it works because of the amount of time the relationship has already had beforehand.

The conflict that hits their relationship almost immediately afterward is upsetting, but it’s not a drag on the plot or pacing of Young Royals and the way Wille and Simon leave things at the end of the season makes it very clear that their feelings for each other that grew over the course of the season we not for nothing.

Simon (Omar Rudberg) and Wille (Edvin Ryding) share and intimate moment.

Much like Wille and Simon, Felice and Sara come from opposite worlds and are not the most likely pair to become friends at Hillerska. Felice shows an open dislike of Sara in the first episode of the show, but the two very quickly put aside their differences and become close friends. Sara is a newcomer to Hillerska, and Felice works to incorporate her into her friend group without trying to fundamentally change who she is as a person. Sara isn’t othered by Felice or her friends after she explains to them that she has Aspergers and ADHD, and the tiny conflicts that the two do have are resolved in a straightforward way that resolidifies their friendship.

After Sara upsets Felice during Parent’s Day, Felice doesn’t hold it over her for the rest of the season, she allows Sara to apologize, explains why it upset her, and they become friends again. Felice is constantly weighed down by the expectations that her mother sets for her, but she never misplaces that anger onto Sara despite Sara sometimes triggering those insecurities for her.

Even when there is a love interest put between them, it doesn’t rip the friendship apart and instead brings them closer. There is also a sort of a give and take to their relationship; Sara helps Felice with horseback riding, and in return, Felice folds her into her social circle at Hillerska, but the relationship isn’t transactionally dependent on these things, and it is nice to see a consistent relationship that doesn’t have massive ups and downs throughout the season. 

From left to right: Sara (Frida Argento) and Felice (Nikita Uggla)
Young Royals’ Unwitting Villain

As hard as the show tries to get you to sympathize with him, August is the one character who cannot overcome his flaws and bad actions. When Wille is introduced to him, it seems like he might be the typical overbearing older classmate who wants to mentor someone who doesn’t really care, but as the show goes on it’s clear that August cares more about his social status than anyone or anything else.

He seems to think that he can wear Felice down and marry her, which he only wants to do because he sees her as “modern nobility”, and he holds a tight grip on his status as the second cousin to the princes of Sweden despite that not really meaning anything. He is also in a dire situation financially, which puts this social status in jeopardy and leads him to betray Wille’s trust in the second half of the season. Every single thing he does is done to make people think that he is equal to or better than them when in reality he’s the most insecure character in the main cast.

This isn’t to say that he’s the only person who has ever done something morally questionable, but every other character at least has some sort of motivation that can actually be sympathized with. Wille is under a mountain of pressure to not cause any more scandals, Simon is under financial and academic pressure to perform at an already incredibly expensive school, Felice is struggling with the incredibly high standards that her mother has set for her, and Sara simply wants to fit in with her classmates.

August’s insecurities about being financially insignificant pale in comparison to these, especially when it’s revealed that he actually does have the financial means to stay at Hillerska and continue his social relevance, he just chooses not to. He’s classist, selfish, misogynistic, and manipulative, and unless a potential second season of Young Royals works overtime to redeem him, it would be completely reasonable for him to face the social rejection he’s so afraid of after everything he’s done.

From left to right: Wille (Edvin Ryding), August (Malte Gårdinger), and Felice (Nikita Uggla)

Out of the gate, Young Royals manages to differentiate itself from other teen shows by taking a more organic and realistic approach to everything. The character’s relationships and insecurities aren’t undermined by unnecessary drama, and it was also great to see a gay romantic subplot that didn’t hinge on either of the characters trying to figure out their sexualities for half of the season before they finally make a move.

The cast is incredibly likable (barring August) and the casting of Frida Argento as Sara was extra satisfying as she has Aspergers as her character does. The main cast themselves are on the younger side, ranging from ages 18 to 22, and that also lends to the air of authenticity that the show looks to create. The final episode ends on a note that would make anyone wish for a second season, and one can only hope that Young Royals follows the precedent it set for itself in its first season.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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