Release Date: March 31st, 2017
Cast: Katherine Langford, Dylan Minnette, Kate Walsh, Derek Luke, Bryan Darcy James
Studio: Anonymous Content
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Ok, everyone, take a big breath. One in. One out. Have we all recovered from binging Netflix’s latest drop, 13 Reasons Why? Based off Jay Asher’s book, this story has been in development for years with Selena Gomez. Originally she was meant to play the lead, but she took a step back to help produce. Along side veteran writers Diana Son and Brian Yorkey, 13 Reasons Why is well-written, engaging, and a heart-wrenching show for adults and teens alike.
TW: This show, and therefore this article, discuss suicide and sexual assault. There will also be light spoilers.
13 Reasons Why centers around Hannah Baker, and her suicide note left in the form of cassette tapes. Old school, as these high schoolers keep reminding us older folk. The tapes get passed on from classmate to classmate until finally they reach Clay Jensen, our protagonist.
Whenever I tell someone I watched this show, as adults their first reaction is, “Why?” I get it. It’s a teen melodrama, right? Some have told me they can’t get past the first few episodes because Hannah should just “get over it.”
To them I say this: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Netflix knows that their viewers binge one, two, three in a row. I watched the last five episodes in one sitting. And the show builds to something much greater than its initial premise.
Hannah’s suicide, which you know about from the very beginning, is a death by a thousand cuts. The bullying, the things to “get over” build and grow and snowball until it reaches a breaking point. By the time she “gets over” one incident, another more menacing action has taken place. If you dissect the show episode by episode, then the little things might not cut so deep. But if you look at the whole, you’ll see how far the bullying and trauma really go.
I don’t know if the show “glamorizes” suicide. I have not yet experienced a loss to suicide, so perhaps it’s not my place to qualify. But in my humble opinion, I don’t think portraying suicide onscreen is glamorizing it per se, nor do I think this show attempts to do so. If anything, the show follows Hannah’s continual cry for help. She doesn’t mention contemplating suicide until the final episode. But she does discuss loneliness, isolation, objectification, and the feeling of being trapped and overwhelmed by her own circumstances. Those, to me, are the themes of the show, not the act of suicide itself.
That being said, I do think that Hannah as the victim is glamorized to an extent. But it’s impossible not to when the story comes primarily from Clay’s point of view. Clay has feelings for Hannah from the moment they meet and whenever he listens to the tapes we see Hannah’s words, but played out through Clay’s romantic gaze. It’s impossible not to see her as beautiful and sweet and perfect, because that’s how Clay sees her.
Because of this, and because of some reveals left at the finale of Season One, I hope there is a Season Two. There is plenty of fodder for Season Two to delve into. The show feels more and more to me like the series of Broadchurch. Season One is the mystery; Season Two is the consequences.
I’d also love a Season Two because the writing of this show is some of the tightest I’ve seen this year. Maybe I’ve been watching terrible TV (no, I haven’t seen Big Little Lies yet). Maybe the Golden Age of Television is finally waning. Or maybe Iron Fist has ruined Netflix Originals for me. Any way, this show has some great character work that I was hooked on.
Each and every teen on the tapes had in-depth backstories, grounded family lives, motivations, believable circumstances, and fears. (The only exception might be the Brock Turner stand-in. Pretty sure that character has no problem eating his favorite snacks.) Each actor played their role to perfection. Hey Hollywood, next time you say you can’t find a Asian, how about picking up Michele Selene Ang or Ross Butler?
The adults, while still very much the nagging parents, are featured and I think that was a necessary addition. In the book, there are no adults. In the show, there are Hannah’s parents, Clay’s parents, teachers, and counselors. Adults, wrapped up in their own egos, miss what’s happening with the children in their lives. And that has its own set of consequences. It’s also an entry point for viewing adults and parents to understand what today’s kids have to worry about, and maybe even spark discussions about bullying, depression, self-harm, and suicide.
A friend of mine says that she sees a growing trend in media that accentuates empathy and the need for a more compassionate society (see podcasts Missing Richard Simmons, or S-Town.) Add in 13 Reasons Why and she just might be onto something. We live in a time where the First Lady’s campaign is end cyber-bullying is legitimately comical. Hopefully this will be one in a string of stories that emphasize the need for a society that looks out for one another instead of allowing people to drown.