Review: A teenage girl, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) committed suicide. Instead of leaving suicide notes, she left seven double-sided cassette tapes – in which she stated a reason and tagged a person ‘responsible’ for her demise in each side of the tape but one; hence, 13 Reasons Why. Ever since the first episode, the show is narrated by a dead girl pointing out who share the responsibility of killing her, as listened by a clumsy school boy, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), who is eager to find out his school’s dirty little secrets.
This series is adapted from Jay Asher’s best-selling young-adult fiction which defies the convention of YA tropes. As much as it is accessible and binge-worthy, this somber, grim teen-angst ridden series is surprisingly taut and thought-provoking, despite revolving around coming-of-age tropes. So, here’s 13 points compiled to review 13 Reasons Why.
01. It’s a vibrant story to tell a tragedy. Suicide is a real deal and it’s a serious matter through and through. And yet, instead of going all sappy along the season, 13 Reasons Why adorns each episode with colorful follow-ups. There are love stories, coming-of-age drama of acceptance and all, murder whodunit, bleak Breakfast Club et al, staged neatly into making an episodic series to intertwine them all.
02. Using unique plot vehicle which barely relies on chronological events, 13 Reasons Why rests its story-telling to its character-driven Each character becomes the center of each chapter/tape from both Hannah and Clay’s POV, revealing how their true nature and motivation. The series only gets deeper and more profound as the character grows, too. By delving more into Hannah’s unpleasant life, the story moves forward.
03. Each character is unique and fascinating. They might represent some high school stereotypical characters, but there’s something beyond that that makes their background story feels real. The show takes time to introduce those characters, but from what they have done to Hannah, we slowly learn about each of them and, possibly, root to one of them.
04. Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette might define their future with their star-making performance. Both protagonists give life to the characters they portray that makes us think that they’re real characters and we sympathize to them as well.
05. 13 Reasons Why is narrated with Hannah Baker’s voice-over, but the story mostly deals with present time moment. Present time events juxtaposes perfectly with the flashbacks revealing some important information about Hannah’s case. In case you get tangled in the timeline, the show’s effective use of flashback has a way to mark the past and the present. Clay’s scar on his forehead signifies moments in the present, symbolizing internal ‘scar’ he felt after losing Hannah.
06. While mostly dealing with coming-of-age characters, adult characters get some nods and roles in the storytelling. Despite being alienated most of the time, grownups in 13 Reasons Why come at the most crucial moment to become the catalyst to the storytelling.
07. Despite having all those fascinating characters, at some points, some characters can be too annoying – too absurd to digest. Each character struggles upon: action-consequence cycle, however, sometimes there are few things/acts which can’t be understood/are prone to misunderstanding. While some decision can be understood using ‘teen angst framework’, some questionable behaviors might lead to plot hole and over-complication. Such deviation displayed by characters like Courtney or Justin Foley might be excusable since they’re working to move the plot effectively; yet, sometimes, ‘questionable decision’ comes from either Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen, which makes audiences’ scaffolding sympathy towards them falters.
08. The show benefits from slick directorial touches by fascinating directors like Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy with his investigation niches, Mysterious Skin’s Gregg Araki with his prowess to teen angst, The Stanford Prison Experiment’s Kyle Patrick Alvarez, documentary-veteran Jessica Yu and Out of Time’s Carl Franklin and television-director specialist, Helen Shaver. No wonder some of the elements feel familiar.
09. Each song in the idyllic soundtracks is rad and relevant to the events. Enough said.
10. While it centers on a suicide case, it’s not always suicide that drains audiences towards the story. Teenage angsts become the real focus here as it branches out into another cases, i.e., bullying, slut-shaming, privacy invasions, personal space invasions, parental neglect and intervention, and many others exist to support each cause. 13 Reasons Why attempts to pretentiously tackle those issues together into 13-episode depiction of high school life, which for some people feels like gangster life and for some like a killing field.
11. Unpredictability always covers 13 Reasons Why since the beginning. The show keeps showering audiences with questions and doubts. Until the end, questions – like, who the most responsible person for Hannah’s death is, why Clay Jensen is on the tape, or whether Hannah Baker actually kills herself – keep revolving in the air. Even, when the show finally ends, unpredictability still occurs as some questions ex machine.
12. Minor spoiler here. Showrunner, Brian Yorkey, seems like having additional stories to tell in follow-up season. By the time the series hits the finale, some loose threads aren’t conventionally tidied up, leaving spots to develop more stories in the future. Some might say that it’s better left untouched in the end; yet, some of those loose threads are too good to miss out.
13. In the end, there’s a small note. I see that there’s been some feud about whether this show is an anti-suicide story or a glorifying suicide story. As much as I like this show, but I must admit that it apparently is glorifying suicide. It almost, like, states that “it’s okay to commit suicide. People cannot always understand you and that’s enough.” One word that got me intrigued: martyrizing. 13 Reasons Why makes Hannah Baker like a martyr and let people blame each other or defend each other using Hannah’s death as an excuse. Therefore, I really hope there’s an extended story to get it right… to bring this thought into positive light.
My final verdict: 13 Reasons Why is a taut, though-provoking coming-of-age suicide story. It might spark debate or controversy, yet, it’s hard to refuse the delight offered by this show.
13 Reasons Why (2017)
Drama, Coming of Age, Thriller Created by: Brian Yorkey based on a book by Jay Asher Starred by: Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Miles Heizer, Christian Navarro Network: Netflix No. of Episodes: 13 Runtime: 52 mins