The newest book-to-TV drama series from Netflix, 13 Reasons Why, is here, and it’s causing quite the stir about a very serious topic. One day, high school teenager named Clay mysteriously finds a box of cassette tapes on his porch that was recorded by Hannah Baker, Clay’s classmate and crush, who tragically committed suicide two weeks before. Through each tape, Clay discovers the thirteen reasons why she chose to end her life and the secrets of his fellow classmates that are gradually revealed through each tape. I, unfortunately, have not read the novel, so I entered the show full-on blind to the characters, the story, and the tone. As a result, each episode was unexpected to me.
There were certain scenes that resonated emotionally with me and I found myself needing to take a break between episodes instead of watching them all in one go. What was interesting were the aspects of realism in the story structure and the intriguing character interactions. There were, however, aspects of repetitive, irritating comments and continuous solemn and unfortunate occurrences.
In this large cast, there were a certain number of characters that clearly stood out to me. Actor Dylan Minette knew how to perfectly depict both the internal and external conflicts of his character, Clay. He was able to capture Clay’s fear and anxiety that his own actions towards Hannah were a cause to her suicide. He also knew how to show the variously distinct and social relationships he has with his other complex and exclusive classmates that reflect his own social awkwardness and his own moral character. There were some moments in the series where Clay’s angst irritated me, specifically when he repeatedly kept shutting his parents and some of his family away. However, I could just be misjudging his own sense of the severity of the situation of Hannah’s death.
Hannah, played by Katherine Langford, significantly displays the series of emotional struggles and downfalls that she has to endure throughout the series. Langford also nails Hannah’s need to push her feelings away and mask her true feelings. Either way, Hannah pulls you into her troubles and makes you sympathize with her to the point that you just want someone to comfort her.
Christian Navarro’s character, Tony, a friend to Clay and a significant character in this story, is a caring and considerate friend with much depth and mystery, making the viewers want to know more about his character and his intentions.
Brandon Flynn’s character, Justin, is a careless and violent teenager with complexity and unfortunate family troubles.
Justin Prentice, who portrays the privileged jock and bully, Bryce, makes you despise the character and feel sorry for Prentice, who has to take on the role of an awful individual who cannot see the repercussions to his actions. Other standouts were Hannah’s mother, Olivia, played by Grey’s Anatomy alum Kate Walsh, who spends the series trying to get through this tragedy and find answers to her daughter’s struggles.
What was truly surprising was the structure and tone throughout the story. The structure switches back and forth from present to the past, from the time when Hannah was alive to the time after her suicide. This allows the viewer to go through the story at a good pace. It also makes you feel in sync with the characters’ actions, especially Clay’s, and see the characters’ missed opportunities to help Hannah. Each episode can intrigue viewers where they want to continue to discover more reasons leading up to Hannah’s decision.
The tone has a sense of realism when referring to high school rumors, issues, and interactions of high school students. The cast does an amazing job at portraying high schoolers and the daily struggles that they face, whether it’s with school, friends, family, sports, or anything else that life entails.
The faults of the series are that the amount of teen angst can come off as redundant and there are some moments that you wish these teenagers would just tell their parents the truth of what is actually going on in their lives. There are also times when it feels as if you’re watching a thirteen-hour PSA and that there is more sadness, regret, and pain than you can chew.
The series is able to depict lessons of real life high school problems and the reality of teen suicide through its great use of characters, story, and tone, which overall leaves the series with a grade of a B+.
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‘13 Reasons Why’: The Good and the Bad. Photo courtesy of Netflix.