13 Reasons Why Season 1 Review (Non Spoilers)
Starring: Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Christian Navarro, Justin Prentice, Kate Walsh, Alisha Boe, Derek Luke
“13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix series centered on adolescents and the issues they face. Cyberbullying, mental health, teen suicide, slut shaming and sexual assault are some of the hot button topics this slickly produced drama/mystery is built around.
Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) is your everyday nice guy; an academically inclined high school junior who is socially awkward around girls he’s into. His life is thrown into emotional turmoil after receiving a series of cassette tapes recorded by classmate Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) which describe the events which led to her suicide.
As she reveals the dirty secrets of supposed friends who betrayed her in each tape, Clay pieces together Hannah’s personal perspective of events with his own experiences in order to uncover the whole truth.
The series is receiving both praise and criticism about the graphic depiction of teen suicide, some calling it irresponsible. I’m going to limit my own critique to one issue which gradually became more frustrating towards the last few episodes. Let my preface by saying that having an open discussion is not in any way judging Hannah’s decision to end her life. It’s clear that she is troubled and didn’t have the support network or skills to cope with her situation.
Hannah has a lot of likable qualities and it’s easy to understand why Clay has feelings for her. Hannah’s biggest problem is that’s she’s pointing her finger at everyone else and deservedly so. But at a certain point you need to take a step back and see how your own actions have consequences.
We all have to be accountable for our actions and take responsibility. “13 Reasons Why” does a good job at driving home this message for other characters except for Hannah. It’s troubling that Hannah is mostly depicted as an object to be enacted upon. This isn’t about blaming Hannah. However, it would have been appropriate for the show to firmly acknowledge how Hannah’s choices played a factor in her own problems and should be accountable for them, just like everybody else.
Focusing on one tape per episode lends itself as a story telling format. Each tape essentially takes one of twelve characters to task for their offense against Hannah. The problem with this drawn out format is that it takes Clay a long time to get to the bottom of things. He’s often reacting to pieces of information without the complete knowledge from listening to the rest of the tapes. Other characters are constantly telling Clay what the audience is thinking, “just listen to all the tapes first before you jump to conclusions!”.
Depending on your threshold for teen drama queens (and kings), the likability of the characters may vary. Diversity is at the forefront. Several characters of diverse backgrounds come from interracial or same-sex parents. Although some may point out how Asian, African-American, or gay characters are not stereo-typically portrayed, that’s not exactly the case for the sleezy alpha-male jocks and creepy, loner school photographer.
“13 Reasons Why” is a bingeable Netflix drama because the mystery of what really happened is a compelling hook. At the same time, the good production value, solid performances, striking soundtrack and non-linear narrative gives the appearance of being a more sophisticated story than it really is. A troubling aspect is that character’s choices are very frustrating at times. If you’re going to play the blame game, start with yourself.