I may not have watched enough high school TV dramas to know, but something about the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ makes it stand out above all else. It is not just the controversy, or its extreme popularity, I believe ’13 Reasons Why’ is the bravest show I have seen yet. Being that this is on Netflix, it manages to pull no punches when it comes to touchy subjects. Everything you see on this show feels too real, and may be enough to not just make you cry, but feel sick to your stomach. I received the same effect while watching, and must warn those not already on the bandwagon, that ’13 Reasons Why’ is not for the faint of heart, or the easily triggered. It is one of the saddest and most realistic depictions of high school this side of television. Creator Brian Yorkey and his crew of directors make sure that each episode leaves an impact on you, while keeping you on your toes for what happens next.
’13 Reasons Why’ started off as a best-selling young adult novel by author Jay Asher, which almost turned into a film in 2011 by Universal, starring Selena Gomez. Given the story line of the book – and the many opportunities – the film idea was changed to become a show, with Gomez serving as executive producer. It was definitely a wise decision. Had the book became a film, it would have been condensed, leaving many elements of its story to either be left out or not be explored in an impactful way. Putting this on Netflix was perfect.
’13 Reasons Why’ takes place during the aftermath of a student named Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide. The high school is dull and dreary, with many a depressed, and baffled face as to why she did what she did. The answer to “Why” comes in the form of thirteen cassette tapes Hannah made. One of the recipients of these tapes is student Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), who is just as curious as we are. Each person who received the tapes is a cause-and-effect for Hannah’s suicide, and Clay tries to find out where he is on the tapes, and what he did to end up there. While other students claim that Hannah’s stories are mainly lies. While all this is taking place, we are transported to a literally bright past prior to her suicide. The contrasting between the two periods in time is amazing to watch. One moment, we see the happy face of Hannah’s mother (Kate Walsh) who wishes her daughter well and becomes good old mom; however, in the next shot, we see the face of someone who is worn and weary over the loss of her daughter.
What makes ’13 Reasons Why’ even more sad and impactful is how it touches on regrets and the what-if’s that come with it. Throughout the series, Clay is haunted by images of the past, as the story is being told through Hannah’s tapes. He feels as if he is a part of her story as we are. Thinking of the things he could, or should have done and/or said for not just someone he went to school, or worked with at the local movie theater, but someone he loved. We are with Hannah as much as we are with Clay. The feeling hurts as much as Hannah’s stories do. Minnette and Langford make you feel the impact of their characters, while the other actors, who play Hannah’s other reasons for ending her life, make you angry for doing what they did.
As the show starts, I have to say that the acting seemed boring and dull, but came to pass as the show fully formed into a mature, yet brave soul that wanted to tell a story and send a message to its viewers. The sad truth is, bullying and suicide are still prevalent in high schools. It is a heartbreaking fact, and a reason for this show to exist. This is what happens when television is done right!