Summer 2021 is a season with many names. Hot Girl Summer. Hot Vax Summer. Existential Climate Anxiety Because The Planet Is Too Hot Summer. Mamma Mia Summer.
Okay, maybe that last one’s just my own personal plan to wear overalls and dance to ABBA a lot, but it counts.
What is slowly becoming obvious, though, is that this is THE summer for teen dramas. Whether you’re splurging on designer pajamas to binge the new Gossip Girl reboot or breaking out your vintage #TeamEdward shirt to marathon all the Twilight movies on Netflix, it truly feels like there’s something on the internet for everyone’s inner high schooler.
With such a crowded landscape, it might be hard to even think about adding another show to the mix. That’s why I’m here to convince you to save some space in your heart and your queue for Young Royals.
Now, when I first saw the teaser for Netflix’s new Swedish series, my immediate thought was that Young Royals would fill the hole in my heart that is the exact shape and size of Baby, Italy’s drama about teens dabbling in the escort business (I know what you’re thinking and yes, it is sometimes very icky but a girl’s gotta practice her Italian somehow!). The trailer was giving me fast cars, wild parties, fancy prep school sports, and, most importantly, cool sunglasses — all the key ingredients for a good high school melodrama.
While all these elements were certainly present in the show, it was actually not what I expected at all — and in a good way!
Let’s start with some basic plot summary. And since my end goal here is to get you to watch this show, we’ll keep this space free of any major spoilers today. The series follows Wilhelm, a young Swedish prince (played by Edvin Ryding). When we meet him, he’s just been caught on video being punched in the face at a club and, naturally, he must be punished. For being punched in the face. His punishment is, of course, fit for a royal: he is forced to attend Hillerska, an elite prep school on a beautiful estate in the woods. It’s the same school his older brother (and the Crown Prince of Sweden) Erik attended, so not only must Wilhelm deal with his own fame there but also with the constant pressure of comparison.
Upon starting school, he is almost immediately drawn to Simon, a soloist in the student chorus (Omar Rudberg). Simon is a “non-boarder,” a word that is thrown at him like the Hillerska version of Hogwarts’ “mudblood.” He is also often ridiculed for being a socialist — this is an elite European prep school, after all! Wilhelm and Simon’s easy camaraderie quickly grows into something much more, and the rest of the series follows as they navigate their attraction and feelings towards one another alongside family and social pressures.
In many ways, Young Royals sticks to the common tropes of teen dramas. Students party with illicit drugs, engage in sneaky and sometimes vengeful hook ups, and have parents who just don’t ~get~ them. The premise is not exactly innovative, and at times episodes can feel a bit predictable. What does feel unique, though, is the way the series builds its foundations on the emotional nuances of its characters’ relationships. The balance leans far more towards their character growth and ways of relating to one another than it does towards any particular plot point. And seeing how the students of Hillerska hurt and heal each other through their friendships, rivalries, and romances makes even the most formulaic storyline compelling.
The main relationship of the series is the one between Wilhelm and Simon. Theirs seems to be a “love at first sight” situation, but one that I found completely believable due largely to their effortless chemistry. The characters are strong as individuals too — Wilhelm never really lets us get to know him too well, but Edvin Ryding plays him with a nervous sensitivity that plants you firmly on his side. Simon, on the other hand, feels like an open book, his reactions to life’s hopes and disappointments becoming more and more extreme but nearly always understandable. Together, they develop love and support for one another with a tenderness that is truly moving to watch.
The relationships between the supporting characters are no less nuanced. One of my favorites is the blossoming friendship between Simon’s sister Sara (Frida Argento) and popular girl Felice (Nikita Uggla), which begins in the stables after riding class. Thank you, Young Royals, for finally giving us horse girl representation in television. What starts on shaky ground due to Felice’s horse liking Sara better — which is absolutely less ridiculous on screen than it sounds as I read that sentence back to myself — grows into a relationship of both support and forgiveness. I only wish we spent more time with these two, both together and on their own as young women navigating adolescence.
Speaking of Felice, I need a brief aside here to give a shout out to her roommate, THEE iconic Madison McCoy, played by Nathalie Varli. Madison, who is from New York and dresses like Björk. Madison, whose reason for being at this Swedish boarding school is never explained. Madison, who participates in every conversation in 100% English yet seems to understand Swedish perfectly. Madison, who reads palms and performs healing energy saging rituals under the old bridge on campus. All hail Madison.
Okay, we’re back. Now, not all of the relationships in the series are positive, which brings us to our villain. August (Malte Gårdinger) is the school prefect — a role which, in Sweden, apparently entails planning full, hundred-person gala events. He is also best friends with Wilhelm’s big brother, leading him to take the young prince under his suffocating wing. Finally, and most importantly, August is the worst. Like… truly the worst.
His interactions with everyone are based on one thing and one thing only: holding all the power he can grasp. This leads him to commit some truly heinous offenses against his own so-called friends. Yet none of these relationships with his fellow students are as toxic as his relationship with himself, a fact that becomes increasingly clear over the course of six episodes. I know his inner struggles are probably meant to create some sympathy for him, but all they did was make me yell “messy!” out loud at my laptop whenever he was on screen. Every good teen drama needs a bad guy, though, so I can’t complain — especially when he’s a bad guy in a black turtleneck, the greatest of all bad guy uniforms:
These are only a few of the characters we meet throughout the series that make Young Royals such a good watch, and I hope you’ll have the pleasure of meeting them all yourself. From Simon’s two delightful childhood best friends to Felice’s tradition-obsessed mother, I found myself wanting more time with everyone — not to mention a full Madison spin-off series. In just six episodes, the show manages to weave these relationships together into a touching picture of love in its many forms.
So if I’ve piqued your interest, come join the fun in the halls of Hillerska and let Swedish Royalty Sommar commence!