So, awhile back (and I really have no idea how long ago it was) but my wife and I found this show on Netflix called Gran Hotel (Grand Hotel in English).
I had my doubts about watching basically Spain’s version of Downton Abbey, but my wife and I are always looking for new shows to watch together, so I figured I would give it one episode and then we could move on.
We have just finished the 2nd to last episode in the series and I have to say, this is THE GREATEST SHOW EVER. We have been so completely sucked into this early 1900s Spanish drama my wife might actually cry when it ends.
It’s hard to explain the way a program with such over-the-top acting, comically dark soap operaesque scenarios and somewhat puzzling twists can pull you in so completely so I won’t even attempt it.
What I will do is list the top 10 reasons why you HAVE to watch this show (no spoilers, I promise).
- Slapping, Slapping and More Slapping
I kid you not, I believe this show has set a record for the amount of face slapping in a series – and it only lasts 3 seasons. The best part is these are full on, Spanish slaps complete with a wind up and solid follow through after the hand connects with the face. Each slap is so intense the slapper is often off balance afterward.
- Tongues of Fire
I have spent a little time in Spain in the past but unless you are used to it, the speed at which the actors rip through their lines (especially in those moments of rage) will just make you all the more happy Netflix includes the subtitles. At one point I thought I saw smoke starting to billow out their mouths but the editing crew seemed to be on top of things as a cut always keeps the viewer from witnessing any full-blown oral flames.
- Tavern Boxing
You know you are in for a comical treat each time, Julio, the protagonist, rips off his shirt in preparation for some classic bare knuckle boxing matches at the local inn. What will take you by surprise and leave you laughing each time is the way he keeps his elbows about the same height as his head, completely exposing himself to brutal punches and knees to the midsection. Sure, he usually manages to win (even while fighting drunk or in the midst of an emotional rage), but he is obviously not worried about style points in the midst of these battles.
Imagine a female character so evil and reviled she would actually eat her own baby to keep the father from giving it any attention. Ok, that doesn’t happen (see, I told you, NO SPOILERS) but she does do the most despicable things and makes the nastiest faces. It’s like she simultaneously sucking on a lemon, smiling, scowling and getting a whiff of something seriously stinky all at the same time. You actually start to wonder if she might have bullied Cruella DeVille and the Wicked Witch of the West in high school at some point. Pure evil, pure entertainment.
Ever seen the north coast of Spain? Well, prepare those peepers because the shots they get of the cliffs and the crashing waves below are beautiful. Sure, there might be a dead body nearby or someone being kidnapped by boat in the distance but it remains beautiful nonetheless. This series alone is probably responsible for luring half of Barcelona’s regular visitors away and increasing tourism in the heart of the Camino de Santiago by 400%.
You know when you watch a movie or television show and wonder how “that guy” ended up with such a good-looking girl? You will wonder this a lot with the character of Javier. This goofy looking charmer comes complete with a pre-pubescent mustache, out of this world good luck (believe me, it’s crazy) and such a strong dependence on his mother you wonder if she might be secretly breast-feeding him when the staff and guests of the hotel go to sleep at night.
- Untrustworthy Flames
Fire plays a huge roll in the series. Mostly, it is used to destroy personal documents or evidence the characters are desperate to keep hidden from their family and friends as they claw and fight to gain control of the hotel and each other. What you don’t realize is there also seems to be an equally huge roll played by none other than Señor Hidden Breeze. This slight burst of air always manages to quell the flame (even while inside a wood-burning stove – yep, may have given away just a little right there) before completely destroying the paper(s) and giving someone else a shot at using the information as blackmail in a future scene or episode. Seriously, these characters are way too busy to just watch it for a few more seconds as it completely turns to ash.
- Rapid Changes
No, I am not talking about wardrobe changes. Trust me, once you start watching, you will see there will never be anything rapid about that process. It’s early 20th century. Everyone is wearing about 8 layers. Except, of course, Julio who always manages to get bare-chested pretty quickly. I am referring to the development of the story. Things move quickly and progress is made in each episode so you are never bored. Seriously, though, these characters will love, hate, trust, distrust, wish death and yet pity the same person all within one hour. It’s amazing.
I think the writers of this show decided early on each character would have to, somehow, be connected to or involved in a murder. If someone is not committing a murder or planning to commit a murder, they are witnessing a murder or trying to frame someone else for one. It almost makes you a little scared for the families of the writing staff because they so quickly move from one murder to the next and the characters mostly seem to get away with the deed (unless they are eventually murdered themselves) and everyone – while usually knowing what has been done – goes back to life as usual.
- Julio’s Violent Side
Our protagonist, Julie Espinosa, is a generally likable guy. He cares for his family, friends and loved ones and will go above and beyond to make sure to protect them, administer justice to their abusers or exact revenge when it seems appropriate. Think Steven Segal but less deadly and more of a loose cannon. He seems capable of using almost anything as a weapon – knife, candlestick, shoelace, t-shirt, loaf of bread, hot soup, steam. Thankfully, he always seems to get stopped before carrying out the attack leaving the viewer continuing to cheer for this underdog of a mystery solver instead of wondering why we are routing for this loco bent on taking out anyone he even remotely suspects of anything sinister.
Do yourself a favor. Watch the first episode and see if you don’t get hooked.
And for those of you who have actually watched this incredible series and know exactly what I am referring to above, do these readers a favor and let them know what they are missing in the comments section below.