Slight spoilers are ahead. The premise of Netflix’s Young Royals is delightfully tropey. The Swedish teen drama, streaming now, follows a thoughtful, almost awkward prince (Edvin Ryding) who’s shipped off to boarding school after getting involved in a nasty nightclub brawl and disgracing the royal family. Prince Wilhelm’s family — including the queen (Pernilla August) and power-hungry second cousin, August (Malte Gårdinger) — expect him to socialise with fellow elites like Felice (Nikita Uggla), but instead, Wilhelm finds himself drawn to an antisocial commoner, Simon (Omar Rudberg).
The comparisons started flooding in immediately after the first trailer dropped. Some YouTube commenters and Twitter users likened the premise to Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue, and others said that the European backdrop reminded them of Skam, the Norwegian coming-of-age series that attracted a cult following worldwide. But an overwhelming majority mentioned the Spanish soap Elite. “The trailer, the sound is giving me major Elite vibes,” one person commented. Several people described it as Swedish Elite — minus, you know. All the murder.
But despite its sexy, dramatic trailer, Young Royals is completely unlike other shows about rich, famous, and worldly teenagers. For one thing, no one has clear skin or perfect hair — even the trendiest, fanciest characters actually look like high schoolers. (Ryding is 18 years old; the rest of the main cast is around 20-22). But even beyond that, their mannerisms are age-appropriate, too. In the eyes of his classmates, Wilhelm is as popular and charismatic as anyone would expect a young royal to be, but he’s also vulnerable and nervous, especially around the guy he likes. He bites his fingernails when he’s stressed; he’s often fidgeting and slouching. Even Simon couldn’t easily be described as cool.
At the same time, though, this clearly isn’t supposed to be a realistic glimpse into high school life. These characters might not be killing each other or hooking up while their friend is asleep next to them, but they’re still plotting against each other, having clandestine hookups, and enjoying exorbitant wealth. Young Royals is a refreshing teen drama that puts realistically awkward, sincere, and believably teenage characters into fun, escapist situations.
Wilhelm and Simon’s sex scenes, teased via sultry snippets in the Young Royals trailer, are proof of this. Unlike the steamiest moments on Elite, Riverdale, and even Skam, their intimate scenes are uncomfortable and a little goofy, and they’re romantic because of that, not in spite of it. They laugh; they make fun of each other’s morning breath. At one point, Simon awkwardly stands up and turns on a video game so that his mum and sister don’t hear anything. Thanks to shows like Sex Education and Normal People, we’re seeing more and more depictions of realistic sex on-screen — depictions that prove messy, relatable sex scenes aren’t just important to portray, but are actually hot experiences for the characters, too. And isn’t that what makes a sex scene good?
And just as it’s still rare to see LGBTQ+ characters and relationships centred in shows, it’s rare to see queer couples get these kinds of sex scenes. Oftentimes, LGBTQ+ couples are either hypersexualised or completely sexless; their sex scenes fade to black, or they’re over-the-top, reducing queer characters to their sex lives. One of the best parts of Young Royals is that Wilhelm’s relationship with Simon isn’t about sex, or his sexuality. It’s about stolen glances, awkward flirting, pining, and yeah, some horniness.
If you’re queueing Young Royals because you need something to watch between Elite’s explosive (in some ways, implosive) new season and HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot, you might not get what you expected. But hey, you know what they say: Come for the tropey, soapy drama, and stay for the awkward, endearing, and quietly beautiful love story.