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Shows you should be watching: 'Gran Hotel' on Netflix

Star- and class-crossed lovers Alicia and Julio — you've gotta love 'em.
Star- and class-crossed lovers Alicia and Julio — you've gotta love 'em.
Published May 21, 2015

Gathered around a table recently with margaritas and wines in hand, we here at the Feed were chatting Mad Men and Grey's Anatomy and so on when one of us struck a nerve: "hidden" shows. You know, the fabulous, addicting stuff buried so deep on Netflix or cable that you might never find it.

We realized as we each took turns gushing on and on that we've all got one (or two, or three ...) shows we've happened upon, started watching with low expectations and gotten thoroughly addicted to for various reasons. We're willing to bet you have your own that you just have to gush about even when no one listens.

But hey, we're going to do something about it. In an occasional series, we're going to tell you about shows you should be watching and why.

First up: my mega addiction Gran Hotel on Netflix. There could be an entire section of my Netflix list (and, really, my life) called "things my sister got me into," but this is among the best. It's a Spanish drama that has been picked up in several European countries, and Netflix's description probably sounds like something you'd never watch: "To learn the truth about his sister's mysterious disappearance, a young man infiltrates a hotel in the guise of a footman and begins an investigation."

Netflix is missing all of the juiciness, so let me help. Set in a fictional seaside Spanish town in the early 1900s, Gran Hotel (also called "Grand Hotel" on Netflix) follows the inner workings of a fancy hotel (just wired for electricity!) and the ruthless Alarcón family that owns it and will stop at nothing to keep owning it. Think Downton Abbey on steroids in Spain. But with less #richpeopleproblems, more murder.

It's amazing well-acted, but describing this show sounds like a telenovela (soap opera): It's a maze of who-is-sleeping-with-whom and who-knows-whose-secrets. Because everybody on this show has at least one reputation- or life-threatening secret ... per episode. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much. One character here pretends to be pregnant, steals someone else's baby, commits a murder, commits another unrelated murder and starts an affair with a priest — perfect for confessing her many sins, right?

This is madre. She means business.

The matriarch of the family is ruthless, demanding and the ultimate schemer who basically has the dirt on everyone and isn't afraid to use it to kill off "threats." Her son is an irresponsible libertine, a totally witless scoundrel. Then there's the fickle older daughter, married to a marquess whose title helps the family looking good amidst scandal upon scandal until one of the scandals forces him to sell it. The younger daughter is forced to marry the show's other major villain, the manager of the hotel complicit in all of mom's schemes, but she's really in love with the guy Netflix describes, the one who pretends to be a footman (and a nobleman, when it suits him) to find out about his missing sister who used to be a maid at the hotel.

And aside from the family's many, many backstabbing misdeeds, the hotel staff features a serial killer, a thief, an all-around schemer/aspiring social climber ... and a bastard Alarcón child. For good measure, add in brief apperances by Agatha Christie — finding "inspiration" for Poirot in Gran Hotel's police detective — and King Alfonso XVIII.

Intrigued? You should be. Time period gorgeousness aside, the mysteries are elaborate, the motives juicy, the romantic tension swoon-worthy.

Ah, the romance!

Gran Hotel is also insanely binge-worthy, in part because Netflix made it that way. The show ran on Spanish TV in 70- to 80-minute episodes, but Netflix broke it down into more digestible 45-minute episodes ... that break in weird and super cliffhanger moments that have you jumping right into the next episode holding your breath.

I'd been busy recently binge-watching The X-Files (my boyfriend asked me last week to "give Mulder a rest for a few days"), but it ground to a halt when Netflix finally threw up the third season of Gran Hotel. Those of you who jump on the bandwagon now are lucky: You can watch the series start to finish; the third season had been held up for months that I spent painstakingly attempting to find out via Wikipedia and subtitle-less YouTube videos who was alive and who was dead.

I speak a decent amount of Spanish (you can usually find me listening to reggaeton), but this early 1900s Spain Spanish is a whole other animal. It's beautiful to listen to even if you're glued to the subtitles (although honestly the typical Spain lisping sounds instead of C's, Z's and S's just about drove me mad at first).

And trust me, those subtitles have some zingers that lose nothing in translation. "If men were punished for the evil they did, you'd have been dead years ago." Yowza!


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