Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Merlí - High School Philosophy Teacher, Student Issues, Barcelona Make Fascinating Netflix Series

We finished season one last night on Netflix.  It pulled together a number of loose ends in a satisfying way.

Photo of Merli (Francesc Orella) from Season 1 Episode 13
Episode 1 (I just went back to remind myself) opens with Merlí meeting his ex-wife in a bar across the street from his apartment.  As he talks to her about her new job (and boyfriend) in Rome, he watches police vehicles in front of his apartment.  He assures her he will take good care of his 17 year old son whose been with the mother.  Merlí goes across the street to talk to the police about his eviction while the wife goes to pick up the son, Bruno, at his ballet lesson.  Merlí packs his stuff and moves in with his mother a once famous actress.  Shortly after Bruno reluctantly moves in too, Merlí gets a call to fill an opening for a high school philosophy teacher.  In Bruno's school.

I'm not giving anything away.  This all happens in the first 15 minutes of Episode 1 of 13 nearly hour long episodes.  That's probably one reason this series goes so well - there is a lot packed into every minute.

Pol and Bruno (Carlos Cuevas and David Solans)
Each episode is titled after a different philosopher.  Episode one is The Peripatetics - and he takes the students for a walk to the school's kitchen.  He tells them the Peripatetics thought while walking.  A student asks him if everyone can do philosophy.  He stops.  Ponders for a long time as the students start snickering.  Then he tells them that he paused that long so he could think about the answer, and to make the point that people don't respect people who think before they speak.

As he engages the students, he antagonizes the other teachers, particularly one who starts a campaign to get rid of Merlí.  The show focuses on about ten of the students - we never find out anything about the black or the Asian student we see now and again in the class.  The students all have their own issues - absent parents, over protective parents, poverty, sex, difficulty in school, and one absent student who has been diagnosed with agoraphobia and never leaves his house.  Merlí helps them all through the application of philosophy.

Merlí is an inspiring teacher, but a difficult human being.  His pursuit of women is out of synch with #Metoo standards, yet he genuinely likes women and sex with them and they like him.  His constant violation of school rules and protocol is exasperating yet it's done in the interest of exciting his students with philosophy.  My sense is that the writers made his transgressions work out way too perfectly, but why not imagine such a world now and then.

I enjoyed it all - the acting, the dialogue, the issues, the look at teachers' lives and students' lives, all wrapped up in philosophy lessons as well.  We also get to see a bit of Barcelona, though mainly the neighborhood around the school and regular panoramic views of Barcelona.

Speaking of Barcelona,  Merlí teaches at Angel Guimera Institute.  Wikilpeida tells us:
Àngel Guimerà[a] (6 May 1845 or 6 May 1847[1] or 1849[2] – 18 July 1924), known also as Ángel Guimerá, was a Spanish Nobel-nominated writer in the Catalan language. His work is known for bringing together under romantic aspects the main elements of realism. It is considered one of the principal representatives of the so-called Renaixença,[3] at the end of the nineteenth century.
It goes on to tell us his most famous play was translated and performed internationally, including on Broadway.  That he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 23 times, but that Spain prevented a Catalan language writer from getting the prize. Clearly, the name of the school was no accident.

I'm writing this because I know that lots of people will enjoy this show.  I can find very little online about the show - basically a Reddit discussion group, but even that is brief.  One person who summarizes what he's found out on Spanish interviews of the actors who play the roles of Pol and Bruno.

What I've learned is that there are two more seasons.  That many think season 2 doesn't keep up the pace of season 1, and I'll leave it at that.

And I still haven't figured out what the owl symbolizes.

Netflix - and the other streaming channels - are transforming the movie watching experience.  We now have available outstanding movies and series from around the world.  It used to be that US culture was sent out into the world via films and music and television.  Now there's a bit of a two way exchange.

All of you with Netflix, especially those who are in education - students and teachers, - at least watch episode one.


  1. Don't have Netflix but might help: the owl in philosophy is used to reference the sacred beast of the goddess Athena (and her wisdom).


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