“There’s all kinds of ways to feel lonely,” says Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high school sophomore who is driven to suicide in the Netflix mini-series based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel phenomenon.
Adapted by Brian Yorkey with episodes directed in part by Tom McCarthy and Gregg Araki, ‘13 Reasons Why’ uses heavy plotting and character development to investigate the loss of an innocent young girl’s life.
The show’s comprehensive story progression and strong performances from a diverse cast make it a structurally sound mystery thriller. These elements, along with its enticing premise, are obvious reasons why it must be binge-watched.
Binge-worthiness aside, an undaunted approach to tragic themes results in a new essential teen drama. Rarely has a depiction of these true to life experiences felt as sincere as they do here.
It is not a shocker that glorifies suicide. It achieves a devastating impact by refusing to flinch at tough subjects. Typically, content intensity restrictions get in the way of these kinds of programs, but Netflix has done away with restrictive content and adds a warning label before harsher scenes at the end. This is the kind of integrity that is lacking from most programming about similar themes. Its openness makes watching the story of Hannah’s death both refreshing and painful as she narrates the chain of events leading to her final moment.
Each reason why is a person who knows exactly what they did, whether or not they are quick to admit it. Unlike the others, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) was a friend of Hannah’s who had more feelings for her than she could have ever known.
This is something the show really presses on as it wants audiences to know that what is going on in someone’s life may be completely undetectable to their classmates, friends, and family. Some of the plotting is contrived and Hannah’s betrayers often fall flat, but the book has been expanded into a large-scale storyline that makes room for imperfections.
One side of a cassette tape is dedicated to each person who let Hannah down and everyone must listen to the tapes in full before passing them to the next person. Clay, who also worked with Hannah, is the right choice for the lead as his story intertwines with her death in the most unfortunate of ways.
Throughout the 13 episodes, in his signature bike and headphones way, Clay is opened up to a dangerous world of lies and offenses that are happening all around him. The audience sees the world through his eyes and it helps that he is more sensible (and sensitive) than his peers. This is beneficial because, unlike his guilty classmates, he feels he cannot bury the secrets that ended in the death of someone very important to him.
A lot happens in the series and the leads are powerful in their roles that require a lot of emotional intelligence. Langford is a newcomer who gives Hannah a graceful quality that makes it even harder to watch as the light within her fades away.
Every character is fully formed and well written even if not all the actors are up to the challenge. When characters are this authentic, it is hard not to get swept away by the fleeting meanings of their actions and exchanges.
Kate Walsh (Mrs. Baker), Miles Heizer (Alex Standall, Reason #3), and Derek Luke (Counselor Mr. Porter) do exceptional supporting work among many characters who get their own arc.
Soothing, warm colors are used for the past and chilling, cool colors are used for the present as a technique that is effective if not obvious. The scenes before Hannah’s death are hopeful and investing which make for a striking effect when they cut quickly into the present.
This does not mean that the creators are trying to preach or scare you into learning life lessons. Instead, the show focuses on sexist microaggression, the bystander effect, bullying, and teen suicide among other issues in a candid and exploratory way.
The artists at work hoped to update the now 10-year old novel with a television series that captures all the same intricacies of the source material and the aftershock it caused. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and a few scenes towards the end could justify a second installment of the series. While there is no second book, I believe the characters in “13 Reasons Why” have plenty more to say and that they have the potential to connect with audiences beyond their initial intent.