Netflix hit it big with their powerful, raw, emotional drama that asks important questions about the state of America’s most entrapping system as it deals with issues of identity, sexuality, rape, and other difficult subject matter — No, we’re not talking about the Orange is the New Black, we’re talking about 13 Reasons Why.
The show (which aired on March 17th) has quickly captivated audiences with its honest portrayal of the toxic culture surrounding adolescence in American high schools and its devastating — and sometimes deadly — effects on those within them. Based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, the series follows Clay, a shy teenager who has been shaken by his friend’s recent suicide. That friend is Hannah Baker, and the story’s narrator. In the first episode, Clay receives a mysterious box full of tapes on which Hannah has recorded a retelling of the events leading up to her suicide, with each side corresponding to a specific person she deems partially responsible.
Admittedly, upon first hearing that the show was Selena Gomez’s “passion project,” I was a bit concerned. I just don’t associate Selena Gomez with dark, serious topics that need to be handled with grace. I was really afraid when rumors swirled that she was going to play Hannah, because then even if her performance was good, it would still be distracting. But ultimately she decided to be a producer who only gave money to the project and had no hand in the artistic process. And it was immediately clear that Selena Gomez gave a ton of money to this show, and it was put to very good use.
The production of this show is phenomenal. They pulled together an excellent cast, and you can expect to see a lot more from frontrunners Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford. Both gave brilliant performances that I felt captured the essence of the characters while not glamorizing them. I was very pleased with the cinematography and editing on this show, and it has a great soundtrack (though the opening sequence is a bit lighthearted in my opinion). If I had a criticism on the stylistic end, I would have to say that it wasn’t quite eerie enough for my liking. The show does a good job of providing some levity in between the extremely somber events that plague Hannah’s life, but the returns to said events often comes across more melodramatic than sincere. I think the marketing for 13 Reasons Why was done really well, and the promotional images all evoked the eerie sadness that I wanted from an adaptation, and while it was there at some points during the show, it was lost quickly in the high school drama.
On one hand, I was disappointed that the visual framework of the show didn’t always match with its dark content, but on the other hand, it makes the show a lot accessible, meaning that it uses enough elements of lots of popular genres like romance and drama a la Pretty Little Liars to draw in larger audiences. If 13 Reasons Why was any more visually gruesome, it just wouldn’t pull the viewership that it did. And this is actually really important to this show, but not for the obvious commercial reasons.
The target audience of this show is, first and foremost, high schoolers. So if the show feels a little “teen angst,” it’s because that’s what it needs to be. The people who most need to watch this show are the ones experiencing the very socially induced pain that the characters are feeling. 13 Reasons Why does a great job of explaining the very real danger of bullying & harassment, paired with the downright oblivious nature of the adults. It provides a genuine portrayal of depression and encourages teens to watch for signs from their peers. They even show Hannah’s death on screen, which (as hard as it is to watch), is a measure that needed to be taken in order to solidify the gravity of the premise they’re working with.
The problems I have with 13 Reasons Why don’t actually have anything to do with the show, as they are the same issues prevalent in the book, so I will not discuss those issues here, but if you are interested in hearing my opinions on that you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to explain.
Overall, I think 13 Reasons Why was extremely well done. When you have a premise this intense, you better have the production quality to support it, and I think this show does. It’s popularity is significant as well, as the more people watch it, the more people are exposed to these very real issues in American high schools today. From the moment I finished the book, I knew it would be a challenge to adapt, but I think it’s safe to say that Netflix stepped up.