The Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why” has exploded in popularity, discussion, and controversy since its release in March.
Based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher, “13 Reasons Why” is consistent with the latest trend of television based projects, in that its a complex story divided into 13 parts or episodes, each with a minor arc and all serving to complete the story as a whole.
The content is loaded with serious tones, broaching such emotional and concerning issues as teenage suicide, bullying, alcoholism and drug use, and sexual assault. I could nitpick some of the production aspects, writing, and odd directorial decisions (we’ll touch on that in a bit) but overall the series is an excellent and gripping production that will have you hooked within the first handful of minutes and can be binge-watched in a weekend, never growing dull along the way.
Hannah Baker is a junior at Liberty High School and – not a spoiler – we learn seconds into the opening scene that Hannah has recently taken her own life. Students at Liberty are dealing with the aftermath in their own way, photos and a makeshift memorial are presented at Hannah’s locker, and her best friend Clay is solemnly sulking around the halls as we hear Hannah’s voice providing narration.
Clay is delivered a series of audio cassette tapes – 13 of them – which Hannah had recorded in the days leading up to her death. Each tape depicts a different reason why Hannah has come to the conclusion that ending her life is her only way out. As Clay progresses through the tapes, fellow classmates and even himself fall into targets of Hannah’s blame – and deeper secrets and atrocities are shed to light.
The performances of the two leads is a thing of beauty. Hannah is played by Australian actress Katherine Langford, and comes across as a perfect representation of what the character is intended to be – a middle of the road teen, quirky and adorable in her own way, and like all high school students, wants nothing more than to fit in with the popular crowd. Likewise, Dylan Minnette is equally effective in the role of Clay – a bookish sort with charm that’s overridden by social awkwardness. Clay has a side that only Hannah can reach, and the pair form a great bond with each other.
The supporting cast is filled out nicely with such recognizable names as Kate Walsh playing Hannah’s mom, Josh Hamilton as Clay’s dad, and Steven Weber as the school principal. I loved the performance of Derek Luke as the guidance counselor Mr. Porter, and kudos should also be given to Miles Heizer, Ross Butler, and Brandon Flynn as various jock/popular kids at Liberty.
“13 Reasons Why” tells the story in two fronts; we follow present day Clay in the aftermath of the suicide, listening to Hannah’s tapes and piecing together the mystery, as well as flashbacks to the two years at school leading up to Hannah’s irreversible decision.
A great aspect is present day Clay seen watching himself and Hannah interact, chastising poor choices he makes or yelling at himself to have responded differently. It’s an emotional charge to watch and listen to Hannah’s narration and even knowing how it will end, we still hold hope that some supernatural element with save the day.
Some of the drawbacks are superficial I suppose, but ones that could have been rectified by different decisions by the creators. The most glaring is the number of tattoos on multiple characters. I suppose one or two on certain person would be okay, but all the jocks and even some of the cheerleaders? One girl is covered from neck to wrist on both of her arms and its somewhat unrealistic being that the story starts with the students as sophomores in high school.
I also thought it odd that every student in the school seemed to have every other students name and number programmed into their phones. I’ll admit texting and cellular technology weren’t an option for me in high school back in the 90s but it does seem strange that a low feeding nerd would be on an Alpha Jocks speed dial. Again not a damaging weakness but one that does present itself as odd at best when these situations arise several times throughout the story.
And as always seems to be the case with any drama occurring in a high school atmosphere, the parties the teens attend are things that would make Hugh Hefner’s notorious grotto bashes shameful in comparison. Going back to my high school days, I’ll readily admit I wasn’t an A-Lister for parties but again – these are supposed to be 15 and 16 year old kids.
“13 Reasons Why” is a powerful, emotional, and gripping drama that will keep you hooked and make you think about how our society, and in particular the school system operates. It has graphic content, but its all relative and important information tat needs to be shared.
by – Matt Christopher