Rebooted ‘Rebelde’ Taps into Latinx Millennial Nostalgia for Gen Z

With shows like “Saved by the Bell,” “iCarly,” “Gossip Girl,” the much-talked-about “And Just Like That,” and the recently announced HBO Max revival “Degrassi,” in television’s final years, reboot ruled.

Much of our streaming and binge-watching relies on nostalgia. Netflix’s “Rebelde” reboot is no different. In the first episode of the new series, we’re taken back to Elite Way School, now called EWS (says probing it), in the same universe as the original “Rebelde” (2004). In one scene, a new student looks at a trophy rack where OG Rebelde paraphernalia hangs like an old-fashioned altar.

Many Latinx millennials remember coming home from school to catch a glimpse of the theatrical antics of the original Mexican telenovela. “Rebelde” wasn’t just a series — it launched the musical phenomenon that was RBD, a chart-topping pop group that sold out gigs and won countless gold records.

In an attempt to distance itself from the original and make its own mark, Netflix’s “Rebelde” loses much of the melodrama and frankly the ridiculousness that the original contained. Unlike shows like “Jane the Virgin” and “Ugly Betty,” the remake was not made for an American audience. Instead, it’s a Gen Z refresh while enjoying the nostalgic feelings of Latinx Millennial.

In this remake, we follow a new group of student musicians from the International Boarding School: Jana Cohen (Azul Guaita Bracamontes), a Gen Z social media pop star who seeks to be taken seriously; Estebán Torres (Sergio Mayer Mori), a scholarship student who doesn’t quite fit the rich kids; Luka Colucci (Franco Masini), the Argentinian spoiled son of an influential businessman and nephew of the iconic Mia Colucci (Anahí) of the first RBD; Dixon (Jerónimo Cantillo), a budding Colombian rapper and reggaetonero; MJ (Andrea Chaparro), a young protected religious woman from California who speaks primarily Spanglish; and Andi (Lizeth Selene), a rebellious spirit who also happens to be queer.

Unlike the telenovela format of far too long seasons, the show is condensed into eight episodes (season 2 dropped on July 27). The main conflict centers on a secret society called La Logia (The Lodge), which in the original telenovela preyed on fellow scholarship students, an intent that still persists in the remake. The show begins with the new students being grabbed from their beds in the middle of the night. The six main characters are asked to “prove themselves” by donning RBD uniforms and singing the iconic song “Rebelde”. Things go awry, of course, when a fire destroys part of the expensive music classroom. The protagonists must solve this mystery so that their precarious position at school is secure.

Each of them carries their own secrets. Estebán has a troubled past which is somehow linked to Luka; Dixon doesn’t appear to be exactly who he claims to be; and MJ’s ambition sometimes gets the better of her.

The stories add to the drama, but the lack of chemistry among the cast leaves viewers struggling to find a connection between the characters. How can these six people come together as a group, let alone as friends?

A standout episode is the sixth installment in the series. Students in the music program are tasked with creating a music video using a song from RBD’s discography. Our core six, whose band name is Sin Nombre, tackle “Sálvame” to create a stunning rendition of one of RBD’s finest songs.

References to the original “Rebelde” aren’t just in the song, there are parallels in romantic relationships such as that of Jana and Estebán and Mia and Miguel Arango (Alfonso Herrera) – two people from different economic classes finding common ground in music. There’s more inclusivity in terms of nationalities – since the original cast was all-Mexican (eg, Dixon is Colombian and an upper-class student is from Brazil), and there’s a semi-open queer relationship. The latter has become popular on social networks in recent months since it is unfortunately one of the rare representations of the love between two young women on television.

“Rebelde” is perhaps a standard teen drama with all the requisite secret societies, love triangles, and jealousies. But while the original telenovela wasn’t what some people might deem Oscar-worthy, it added a twist Netflix’s stripped-back version could never aspire to.

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