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Why you should be watching the Spanish drama ‘Gran Hotel’ (before Eva Longoria’s American version)

By Caitlin O'Conner
Published: December 29, 2017
Antena 3Star-crossed lovers Alicia (Amaia Salamanca), an heiress, and Julio (Yon González), a waiter, are the central characters in Spain's Gran Hotel.

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.

Recently returned to Netflix after a brief stint on Hulu, Gran Hotel is a Spanish drama that has been picked up in several European countries, and has been remade in Mexico as El Hotel de los Secretos (also available on Netflix) and soon will be remade in the United States on ABC by Eva Longoria, according to Deadline. 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. It's often called "the Spanish Downton Abbey," but I say think Downton Abbey on steroids in Spain. But with less #richpeopleproblems, more murder. (Longoria's version moves the story to Miami Beach, time period … who knows. I'm a little skeptical. I mean, Jane the Virgin is already set at a present-day Miami hotel with a lot of murders and intrigue. But I digress.)

Gran Hotel amazing well-acted but with all the delicious drama of a telenovela: 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?

The story starts when Julio (Yon González, Netflix's Cable Girls/Las chicas del cable) enters pretending to be a footman to search for his sister, a maid at the hotel has gone missing. Her disappearance is the first of many suspected murders, but also just the entry point to the web of crime, intrigue and more. Julio quickly falls for the youngest daughter of the family, Alicia (Amaia Salamanca, Velvet). Their cross-class romance continues to be a staple of the show through the wild ups and downs of three seasons. But really everyone on this show is something else.

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. And Alicia is forced to marry the show's other major villain, the manager of the hotel complicit in all of mom's schemes, despite being in love with Julio.

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 appearances 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.

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.

If you're not usually a fan of reading subtitles, I can tell you Gran Hotel is the show that will make you forget all of that. You'll be holding onto your hat and calling out warnings to "Alithia!" 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!