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How does Netflix’s ‘Rebelde’ reboot compare with the original?

Jana (Azul Guaita) and Esteban (Sergio Mayer Mori) in Netflix's “Rebelde,” a reboot of the beloved Mexican telenovela of the same name. (Netflix)
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Note: This post discusses some of the relationships between characters in the original “Rebelde” and those in the Netflix reboot, but avoids major plot spoilers.

There is an early moment in Netflix’s “Rebelde” reboot that takes the show’s many self-referential jokes to a new meta level. A new student, gazing at a hallowed collection of uniforms in his school’s trophy locker, declares the display — in honor of several alumni who formed an iconic band during their time at the prestigious Elite Way School (EWS) — “so embarrassing.” A fellow incoming freshman counters that “not just anyone could do what they did,” noting that RBD, as the band was called, went on to fill stadiums and earn countless gold records.

The observation is true in the universe of “Rebelde” — a beloved Mexican telenovela adapted from Argentina’s “Rebelde Way” — and in real life. The Televisa series, which premiered in 2004, gave way to a chart-topping pop group that helped propel the show’s cast to superstardom. RBD released nine studio albums (including Portuguese and English-language efforts) and garnered Latin Grammy nods in the process, sold out huge venues and earned comparisons to Menudo, another legendary Latin pop outfit. The group disbanded in 2009 but maintains a loyal fan base that enthusiastically celebrates milestones such as last year’s arrival of RBD’s music on streaming services and a virtual concert reunion.

The reboot is full of cheeky callbacks to its predecessor and echoes several major plot points. But there are also some striking differences, which we’ve broken down below.

There are fewer episodes — far fewer.

The first season, which launched this week, is a tight eight episodes, while the original clocks in at 440 episodes total over three seasons (lengthy even by telenovela standards). That adjustment is typical for Netflix, which has ramped up its production of shorter series with telenovela elements such as “Who Killed Sara?” and “Dark Desire” (led by “Rebelde"/RBD alum Maite Perroni).

The shorter run time means that this version of “Rebelde” gets to everything — the music (including several RBD covers), the secret society tormenting students, the relationships and requisite love triangles — much quicker than its source material.

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There’s a new Colucci at EWS, but Mia Colucci is still the It Girl.

The reboot isn’t interested in reintroducing characters, but rather focuses on drawing parallels between those in the original telenovela — treasured by millennials and on-the-cusp Gen Z-ers — and the new class. Netflix’s new group of student musicians — Jana (Azul Guaita), Esteban (Sergio Mayer Mori), Luka (Franco Masini), Andi (Lizeth Selene), Guillermo a.k.a. “Dixon” (Jerónimo Cantillo) and MJ (Andrea Chaparro) — are eager to be accepted into the MEP (Musical Excellence Program) and compete in the battle of the bands.

Luka’s surname, Colucci, is instantly recognizable to his fellow students and fans of the original. The snobby freshman is the nephew of RBD vocalist Mia Colucci (Anahí), who ruled the halls of EWS as an impossibly wealthy and stylish It Girl prone to dramatics. (One of Mia’s classic, most meme-worthy moments found her proclaiming “que difícil es ser yo” — how hard it is to be me! — after discovering an anonymously sent letter she surmised was either anthrax or a declaration of love.)

The reboot quickly establishes Mia’s still-legendary status when a senior notices MJ wearing a star sticker on her forehead (a trademark of the EWS alumna), and tells the incoming freshman that she should give up her “dream of becoming the next Mia Colucci.”

The reboot’s definitive Queen Bee (dubbed a less-talented “new Mia,” by an adversary) is Jana, a pop star intent on losing the one-hit-wonder label that has defined her career — in part, because it was facilitated by her famous producer father. Like Luka, Jana has deep ties to EWS: Her mother, Pilar Gandía (Karla Cossío), attended Elite Way alongside Mia but doesn’t remember the school fondly because she was often bullied for being the daughter of the principal. (In other returning characters, Mia’s put-upon BFF Celina Ferrer, reprised in the role by Estefanía Villarreal is now principal at EWS).

Jana’s burgeoning relationship with Esteban offers another parallel as the two have an instant attraction that resembles the chemistry Mia shared with Miguel Arango (Alfonso Herrera), a scholarship student who enrolled at EWS in hopes of avenging his father’s death. Like Miguel, Esteban is on scholarship and, unbeknown to his classmates, trying to get information about his past from a classmate’s powerful father. (Not Jana’s, whew.)

Jana and Esteban, just like their counterparts, have love triangles, too. MJ has feelings for Esteban, and Jana enters EWS as the girlfriend of Sebas (Alejandro Puente), a snobby senior. Absent: the incessant bickering that underscored the will-they-won’t-they vibes between Mia and Miguel in “Rebelde’s” first season. The reboot just doesn’t have that kind of time!

There’s also a real-life parallel between the actresses behind Mia and Jana, as illustrated by a photo Guaita shared of herself as a child, dressed as Mia, posing alongside Anahí on the “Rebelde” set. Way to manifest your dreams, kiddo.

The students are even more multilingual.

“Rebelde” was known for mixing English phrases like “super cute” into the show’s predominantly Spanish-language dialogue, and the reboot makes a joking reference to this when a senior named Emilia (Giovanna Grigio) explains, in a dubious tone, that “everyone here likes English more, it sounds more sophisticated.” Emilia, a Brazil native on scholarship, also frequently adds Portuguese phrases to her cutting remarks. MJ, meanwhile, is a first-generation American and California native, who frequently speaks English (sometimes without realizing it).

The musical influences are also vast. RBD was mostly pop, but borrowed from other genres including rock, R&B and reggaeton, a burgeoning genre only beginning to emerge from underground in the early to mid-aughts. The reboot arrives at the peak of reggaeton’s pop puissance, and rightfully incorporates a lot more of the genre and its offshoots — Latin trap included. (Ddddixon, baby!)

The show is more inclusive — to a point.

The show has several prominent LGBTQ characters who enjoy exciting romances like their straight counterparts, without making their identities the entirety of their stories. That fits with RBD’s legacy: At the height of the band’s fame in 2007, member Christian Chávez came out as gay after a gossip website published photos of him marrying a man in Canada. The news was particularly controversial in Mexico, but Chávez found support among his bandmates and their fans.

But the series continues at least one sad telenovela tradition: the most prominent characters are White and mixed Latinos, and the show’s wider cast features virtually no Afro-Latinos. That’s not representative of Mexico or Latin America, and it’s especially tone-deaf given all the reggaeton and other updates the reboot has made around representation. Nearly two decades after its predecessor, it’s a missed opportunity to reflect the full diversity of a culture that continues to be misrepresented on-screen.

La Logia (the Lodge) still exists.

The reboot makes plentiful use of the secret society that went after Miguel and other scholarship students in the original novela. La Logia surfaces in the first episode and things get harrowing pretty quickly. Luckily, Principal Celina (not to mention Luka and Jana) has some background knowledge in that department.

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