By Ramita Setty
In recent years, Netflix has developed a reputation for having a subpar collection of teen shows and movies — a reputation not totally undeserved. But occasionally, among all the mediocre shows, a few stand out. One of the rare gems is “Young Royals.”
Debuting on Netflix in early July, “Young Royals” is a Swedish drama series that follows a group of teens at an elite boarding school. When I first saw the trailer, I wasn’t sold on the show — it seemed like your typical teen drama of the week. But I was soon proven wrong.
The show’s main character, Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding), is second in line for the Swedish throne. He was sent to Hillerska, the most elite school in the country, after a video of him in a fight went viral. There, under the guidance of his older second cousin August (Malte Gardinger), Wilhelm is slowly initiated into life at Hillerska. Wilhelm also meets Simon (Omar Rudberg), and the two boys’ connection and subsequent romance become the main plot point of the show.
The attention “Young Royals” gives to the small details is immensely refreshing — so few other teen shows on Netflix pay such heed. Several characters re-wear their clothes throughout the series, and their possessions, such as Simon’s phone, suit their economic status. In addition, multiple characters, including Wilhelm, have pimples and textured skin, something rarely shown in teen shows. Despite that some characters are princes or heiresses, the normalization of such things feels surprisingly grounded and relatable.
“Young Royals” also tackles internalized homophobia and coming out from a nuanced and fresh perspective. Wilhelm doesn’t exactly have internalized homophobia; rather, he has an obligation to the throne and nation that makes it difficult to ever pursue a same-sex relationship. The issue, as “Young Royals” makes clear, isn’t homophobia, but the conformity of the upper class to the high standards that have governed their actions for hundreds of years — something made painfully clear in a statement that Wilhelm is forced to give in the last episode: “Everyone is free to live however they want to,” yet he isn’t.
The characters are exquisite as well. Wilhelm, who clearly struggles with anxiety and anger issues, is a compelling and tortured lead trying to manage the expectations of the Swedish monarchy while navigating his first crush.
Simon, a non-residential student at Hillerska with the voice of an angel, isn’t shy about criticizing the monarchy in front of Wilhelm. But he is also willing to empathize with Wilhelm while not compromising his own values — a subtle dynamic that Young Royals nailed.
There’s also August, our so-called villain. I say “so-called” because every character in this show is too nuanced to be placed into a “good” or “evil” category, though August has very few redeeming qualities.
And Sara (Frida Argento), Simon’s sister, portrays neurodiversity via flaws and insecurities that make her seem like a real human being — something sadly lacking in shows that feature neurodiverse characters.
In the span of six short episodes, “Young Royals” captivatingly explores the lives of these students. With a rap soundtrack and a dreamy electric theme, the show quickly draws us into the world at Hillerska and leaves us reluctant to leave after the bittersweet cliffhanger at the end.