Friday, May 6, marked the premiere of Welcome to Eden (Bienvenidos a Edén) on Netflix. With an abundance of influencers and famous names in the cast, an absorbing storyline, and massive promotion by the platform, it was one of this year’s most hotly-awaited Spanish productions.
There are probably very few subscribers yet to discover that this new series – created by Daniel Benmayor (Xtreme) and Menna Fité (Merlí) and produced by Brutal Media – has been added to the Netflix catalog. And that’s because there’s been an all-out effort to make it the next Netflix hit.
It certainly has all the ingredients for success – an intriguing opening that asks “Are you happy?”, a line-up of stars of the stature of Belinda and Ana Mena, big bucks spent promoting the premiere, and a lavish blockbuster-level production of theevents that take place within the series. Welcome to Eden has it all. Except a soul.
Because the story it tells has no soul.
It’s as if the series is the outcome of a Netflix algorithm that factored in what would most interest teen viewers – presumably exclusive parties, beautiful people, secret islands, alcohol and being happy – and blended all these ingredients together to produce Welcome to Eden. But while it may have all the things needed to entice young people to take a look, they’re unlikely to be drawn into this ‘no man’s land’ of unsympathetic characters and a plot profuse in loose ends.
Everything needed to be a hit but nothing to make you love it
Remember the ‘in’ crowd at school who seemed to have it all going on, until you got to know them and realized how hollow they were inside? Well that’s the feeling you get with every episode of Welcome to Eden.
The star-studded cast will no doubt convert the show into a darling of social media. Thanks to Belinda (15 million followers on Instagram), Berta Vázquez (over two million), Ana Mena (over one million), Amaia Salamanca (almost a million), Begoña Vargas and Sergio Momo (nearly 500,000 each), word of this new show is guaranteed to reach their over 20 million followers combined.
It furthermore not only features the million-dollar question – “Are you happy?” – but also the answer, in the form of an exclusive party on a secret island. There’s free alcohol, interactive wristbands, boys and girls with beautiful bodies, music, and a carefree vibe. What’s not to like?
Welcome to Eden sure ticks all the boxes when it comes to what you might expect to interest teenagers in a storyline. But a series should deliver more than mere window dressing, more than the attraction on offer on Instagram. The stories they tell need some resolution that ties up loose ends. That’s what Mark Twain was getting at when he said: “The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.” There needs to be some kind of message, something that changes your point of view, something that surprises you with a fresh experience.
But that’s not the case in this series that instead has you constantly wondering why the characters made those choices, why the plot took that particular twist, even what the point is overall. Bizarre parties can be entertaining, but they’re not enough on their own. You want to be affected by what you watch, by what you experience vicariously through the characters. Otherwise you might as well just stick with reality. And no one goes to Eden in search of that.
Too much like fast food to make you a fan
It’s true the series makes an attempt to dive below the surface of the characters and reveal the personal issues each one faces. When one opens up about their sick mother, another about their father’s abuse, and so on, it creates a space in which viewers can start to identify with them. But the overall lack of depth ends up provoking more disgustthan empathy towards them.
Instead of enjoying the journey, it’s like Welcome to Eden is in a rush to arrive. It leaves you wishing you knew more about this cast of charismatic characters that’s apparently so unique. But instead of discovering what makes them special, why they stand out from the others, why they were the chosen ones (in both real life and fiction), and understanding their mindsets, you get a glib explanation. It leaves a feeling like when you’ve eaten McDonald’s – you satisfy an urge to stuff yourself but in the days, weeks and months that follow you don’t give that ‘feast’ another thought.
Welcome to Eden pulls back on its promise. It has missed out on the opportunity to become the style manual for an entire generation, something for teenagers to turn to in tough times, and to return to when older and feeling nostalgic about those times back then. But instead it settles for being just one more post in the feed of their lives. Like a cheap burger after a night of clubbing.