The twenty-year anniversary of Buffy just recently passed and its metaphorical take on high school being hell is still as relevant as ever. Over the years TV shows have explored the pressures of high school in both credible, thoughtful ways and equally trashy superficial ways too meaning how good these TV shows are works on a case by case basis. 13 Reasons Why is the latest and it is a clever, heartbreaking and engaging affair that while not for the faint of heart, is a must watch. Find out why in our review.
Hannah Baker has committed suicide leaving many around her at high school and her family wondering why. Before she took her life, she recorded a series of tapes that explain the 13 reasons why she chose to take her life. Each of those reasons is a person. One reason is Clay Jensen who had a crush on Hannah and is unable to figure out why. The deeper he gets into the tape, the more sinister the reasons for her death and the sense of dread on what he might find on his tape.
13 Reasons Why on some level borrows from a lot of genres that have come before it. There is the nerdy guy as he falls in love with the pretty girl who eventually starts to love him back. It’s a mystery about what happened at that party. It’s about bullying and slut shaming and their effects. The popular kids versus the not so much. It’s all ground that you’ve seen before in movies and TV shows about teens. It allows for an instant entry and connection point with this story. Yet something about it seems different.
It might be the ominous cloud of suicide that hangs over the whole thing. A sadness and despair that there will be no happy ending. Usually suicide is a twist in a plot but 13 Reasons Why is honest about it from the get-go. In fact, it’s very unflinching in its portrayal of it (and many other issues for that matter) and when it does happen in the show’s final episode, it is gut-wrenching and horrifying. It truly is difficult to watch without feeling helpless. As you watched the reaction of Hannah’s parents you will be mortified.
But how do you make a show where the ending is predetermined, engaging? 13 Reasons Why is the first show in a while I’ve powered through quickly. The story is told with parallel storylines as Clay listens to the tape, we follow his life, but also, we relive Hannah’s final weeks too. It helps that these parallel stories are wrapped in a mystery of why. It’s not simply the reason of why for Hannah, but also what did this seemingly nice guy Clay did.
Strangely when it all comes out; all the cassette tapes are played you aren’t left with a bunch of horrible people who are to blame for Hannah’s death. The show only has one demonstrably bad villain and you can pick him out a mile away. Rather there is a cast of characters who do equally dumb and selfish things as humans are prone to do. They are filled with conflicts and complexity, of grey rather than black and white. Cheerleaders who want to be in control, people afraid to come out, jocks who are desperate to fit it and tech geeks who just want to be seen. It all seems obvious yet somehow 13 Reasons Why paints them fascinatingly.
The Strong casting of relative unknown actors helps in this ambitious task of making complicated characters a reality lead by Dylan Minnette as Clay, Katherine Langford as Hannah and Christian Navarro as Tony. All give nuanced performance that might echo a character type you’re already familiar with but take into directions that are unexpected. From humour to romance, anger and despair they cover a wide spectrum in their performances.
13 Reasons Why is not without flaws and its middle few episodes of the 13-episode run feel a little bit repetitive thematically. It’s possible that it seemed like a completely logical reason to make that number of episodes based on the reasons but in execution it weighs down the pace.
The ending of the show is a little ambiguous without a clear resolution. It will frustrate some as people look for more solid answers. I personally liked it as it gave a picture of life moving on, no ending point, unlike Hannah’s death. My concern is that it might leave room for a second and completely unnecessary season.
13 Reasons Why is also fairly intense and while seemingly aimed at teenagers it probably is a solid viewing experience for older audiences too. Yet no at matter what point in your life you’re at this is a tough watch with sexual assault and suicide dealt with an honest and emotional way. It still could make people uncomfortable and it’s probably worth warning people before they go in. The show has episodes with trigger warning if that’s any indication.
13 Reasons Why Season One Review Cheat Sheet
13 Reasons Why might be the next big thing from Netflix. Yet in some ways that is an uncomfortable label for a powerful show about a young girl’s suicide and the fallout from that. At times heartbreaking and horrific, it’s portrayal of high school is tough but meaningful. It’s clever story telling style and nuanced performances sell a compelling and must-see series of TV.
+ Compelling bing watching
+ Clever story structure
+ Heartbreaking in a number of different ways
+ Nuanced peformances by the cast.
-Repetive themes in the middle
-A second season?