I remember the first time I saw the Baby trailer. I was fresh from the high of Elite and instantly worried the upcoming fellow Netflix show would steal my beloved Spanish teen murder soap’s thunder. After all, Baby, loosely inspired by a true story, is also a mononymous drama about rich European Hot Teens getting into very big trouble. While Elite unravels a mysterious death in a posh Spanish high school, Baby follows two Italian girls (Alice Pagani and Benedetta Porcaroli) at a posh Roman high school who are seduced into a prostitution ring.
With a plot like that, you would expect Baby to be as shocking as its Spanish streaming sibling — if not even more so. Then, you get to the season 1 finale, “#Love,” and realize all that promise has collapsed into itself like a soufflé. While the season-closer’s ending makes the mostly snoozy series’ best case for season 2, it ultimately proves Netflix should never give us one.
While Baby is technically about wealthy teen Chiara (Porcaroli) and other-side-of-the-tracks teen Ludovica (Pagani) entering the sex trade (prostitution is legal in Italy, but it is a crime to pay individuals under 18 for sex), it doesn’t exactly focus on that taboo journey over its first six episodes. In fact, the friends, whom we’ll call Ludiara for brevity’s sake, aren’t even manipulated into selling sex until fourth episode “#Friendzone”.
Instead, the high school saga throws about 10 sputtering plotlines at viewers. Baby hops from Chiara’s parents’ failing marriage to Chiara’s failing friendship with judgy BFF Camilla (Chabeli Sastre Gonzalez) to a love hexagon (sexagon?) starring Chiara and Camilla and resident emotional bad boy Damiano (Riccardo Mandolini), to Ludo’s strained parental crises. With all of those complicated plates spinning in the air, it’s difficult for any of these threads to make an impact or move Baby forward.
Yet, they all finally do in “#Love.” Damiano crashes a car, putting Saverio (Paolo Calabresi), Ludiara’s pimp in the hospital and on life support. Damiano has no idea Saverio is selling the girls for sex — just that the much older man nearly raped Ludo in the back of an SUV. Eventually Chiara uses Saverio’s incapacitated status to unlock his phone and erase any data he has pertaining to Ludiara. Then, he dies. This is great for Ludiara, and bad for Damiano, who caused the death of an extremely powerful criminal kingpin. He is now indebted to Fiore (Giuseppe Maggio), Saverio’s cousin and second in command. Fiore is also Ludo’s so-called ex-”boyfriend” and actual top manipulator.
Outside of Chiara, Ludo, and Damiano’s personal criminal underworld antics, general annoyance Brando (Mirko Trovato) snaps a picture of Ludo and Fiore speaking and then shows the photo to Camilla. Camilla is going to America, but her knowledge of this connection promises some future drama. In that same vein of looming doom, Virgina (Federica Lucaferri), the on-again, off-again girlfriend of Camilla's brother Niccolò (Lorenzo Zurzolo), learns something is going on between the underage boy and high school running coach Monica (Claudia Pandolfi). Monica is also Damiano's stepmom.
An episode like this — with tons of drama exploding around our major character and bread crumbs that could lead to even worse consequences — would usually be the one a TV season hinges on. Instead, this is where Baby ends. With the photos and texts deleted from Saverio’s phone, which Chiara is holding onto anyway, Ludiara is essentially off the hook for their sex work moonlighting. Ludo is happy to learn Chiara, her only real friend, isn’t going to America. Chiara and Damiano kiss, suggesting their unnecessary romantic flailing is over. Queue up Chiara’s voice over about being 16, living in Rome’s most wealthy neighborhood, and needing a secret life. The end.
The farewell moment feels like a slap in the face. After investing nearly six full hours in Baby, the Netflix newbie closes up shop at the exact moment it starts getting exciting.
But this anticlimactic ending may be exactly what the series needs. Baby’s greatest handicap is its central goal to craft a sexy and breezy romp around one of the least sexy or breezy topics in the world: underage sex trafficking. In an attempt to avoid making an abusive crime look glamorous, the teen show is unnecessarily somber. Not one person here possesses the passion that makes similar YA treats like Elite or Riverdale genuinely fun… that is until the final seconds of “#Love.”
Our last images of Baby’s most tortured trio is actually as hopeful as this YA dirge can get. Do we really want to see two teenage girls get dragged back into sex work with an abusive drug kingpin and pimp? Or a grieving teen boy start selling cocaine over fear of death. Because that’s exactly what would happen with a second season. Or do we simply want to imagine Chiara and Ludo forever smiling in a sunny bedroom fit for a high school senior?
The answer here is clear.
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