If you go onto Netflix there are loads of TV series including Netflix own original series to choose from. But before you settle down to watch establish shows like Orange is the New Black or the latest Marvel instalment consider turning your attention to one of Netflix newest shows. 13 Reasons Why may be based off YA material (which I personally have no problem with) but it is a series adults can, and should, consider vital viewing, especially if you have teenagers yourself.
13 Reasons Why revolves around teenager Clay Jenson who finds a box of audio cassette tapes left on his doorstep. As he starts listening to them he realises the tapes are from Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide. Each tape list a reason why Hannah decided to take her own life, and names the individual responsible. As Clay listens to the tapes he realises those named on the tapes have previously been given the tapes before him and that having the tapes means he is one of the reasons why Hannah decided to kill herself.
As you can imagine from the subject matter 13 Reasons Why isn’t always an easy watch, but then it isn’t meant to be. There are lots of news articles about bullying and teen suicide, with social media becoming a new way to torture a victim, something Hannah endures in the show. It’s therefore a testament to the writing that these issues don’t feel sensationalized, exploitative or melodramatic. While this can be a heavy show at times there are also scenes each episode of laughter and touching moments between Clay and Hannah in flashback. Of course these scenes are filled with bittersweet feelings as you already know the outcome for Hannah.
As the show moves between the two timelines, (each episode being one of the reasons why) with Clay in the present and Hannah in the past, we see not only how Clay is reacting to the events but also the other individuals featured on the tapes. Some are remorseful of their actions, others not so much. Some of the reasons taken on their own may not seem like a big deal, which is how some individuals feel. But the message of the tapes, and the show itself is that everyone is responsible for each other. Something you say or do may not seem that bad to you but you don’t know what someone else is going through or how one thing you did may have unforseen consequences further down the line.
Another reason this show elevates itself above other teen series is the casting. Each actor is excellent in their roles. The individuals on the tape range in likeability despite their actions, and the majority of them are given hints of back stories to explain why they may have acted like they did. It may not excuse them but we get a better understanding and it helps make them three-dimensional characters. You also get supporting characters on Clay’s side like his friend Tony ( Christian Navarro) who is also mysteriously involved with the tapes. Then there’s Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James who play Hannah’s devastated parents trying to discover why their daughter killed herself. Both are brilliant in their roles, with Walsh in particular able to grab hold of your emotions and not let go until you’ve cried buckets of tears.
The two stand outs of the show however are its leads Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford as Clay and Hannah. Langford has a difficult role in playing a character where every possible bad thing that could happen does, and make her feel like a real person and not just a victim. You smile when she has moments of happiness and feel her pain when she’s mistreated. There are specific moments where you can see the hope disappearing from Hannah’s eyes and it’s brutal. Despite knowing the ending you constantly wish during the flashbacks that something will happen to stop her. Then there’s Minnette who is the heart of the show. Clay is a good guy but he still has flaws and sometimes will say or do things he’ll come to regret later. As the other individuals look to see if Clay will remain silent he is the conscience for the other characters, holding a mirror up to what they have done. There are so many scenes where Minnette will just break your heart and he nails the performance.
Towards the last half of the series Netflix have guidance before certain episodes in case viewers may find a few scenes distressing to watch. Those of Hannah’s suicide are particularly difficult to watch and are more graphic than some may be prepared for. It’s not an easy watch but it also doesn’t feel exploitive and importantly it doesn’t romanticise suicide at all.
The show itself is not perfect. It could have been a few episodes shorter and the involvement of Clay’s mother in a bullying lawsuit against the school feels forced. However this is a series that I was gripped by, watching it all over a six-day period (damn work!). It is also a show that will remain with you long after the series has ended and contemplating many of its subject matters and themes. I hope you will consider watching it.