13 Reasons Why has taken the world by storm, dubbed by some as ‘The Best Netflix Show in Years’. I read the book when I was about 14, and I remember loving it, so the news of its adaptation was an exciting prospect, and it didn’t disappoint.
The story follows Clay Jensen, receiving a set of audio tapes from the girl he loved, Hannah Baker, after her suicide, dictating the 13 reasons that drove her to such an act, including him. Here’s 13 reasons why you should watch 13 Reasons Why:
“the show is a testimony to how much the little things can hurt”
1) While you may feel frustrated with Hannah at first, it is important to persevere. At first you think ‘so what?’ to some of her reasons; the show is a testimony to how much the little things can hurt. Take the first episode, which reveals that a racy photo of her was sent around the school, earning Hannah the label, ‘slut’. While this may be quite small, it’s a label that followed her and becomes a motif through the series. The main message is that anything can build, until it sends her over the brink. The show is a realistic representation of high school life, and how teenagers can treat each other with repercussions they can’t even imagine
2) Aside from the main issue of suicide, the show ties together many other themes – from rape, to fatal car accidents, and to LGBTQ+. While some moments are rather more far-fetched, each issue is dealt with delicately but convincingly, bringing together all strings of teenage emotion.
“each issue is dealt with delicately but convincingly”
3) The raw emotion of the actors is a credit to their ability. The final episode brings the distressing scene of Hannah’s suicide, which I must admit I had to look away from. Hannah’s suffering, and that of those she left behind is brilliantly portrayed by each actor, whose suffering manifests in different ways.
4) Each character is cleverly developed as the series continues, as their distress and anxiety escalates. Of commendation is Jessica, played by Alisha Boe, who spirals out of control. Second to Hannah, she is the one most affected by the contents of the tapes, and the perfect cheerleader exterior is gradually downgraded to a perfect mess.
5) Each tape does not explicitly begin with a name, and there is no list to begin with, so the show becomes a guessing game for the viewer. While some characters are clear villains, others are more surprising, and one thing that keeps you watching is wondering who may pop up next.
“the show becomes a guessing game for the viewer.”
6) It would be silly to think that Netflix would allow only one season of a series, so while Hannah’s reasons have been made clear, enough cliff-hangers are apparent for more seasons to be workable, if unnecessary.
7) The show is not awash with celebrity faces, which gives it another realistic facet. While originally set to become a film, starring Selena Gomez, Gomez became the producer and I’m quite glad she hid behind the camera.
8) For once, the actors are portraying someone pretty much their own age, and they look it! Let’s be honest, who genuinely goes to school in 6-inch heels a la 90210 or Pretty Little Liars? Too many teen shows escalate into the realm of ridiculousness, and 13 Reasons Why manages to steer clear, portraying a bitter but genuine story.
“A BITTER BUT GENUINE STORY.”
9) A key difference from the book is the addition of LGBTQ+ characters including Tony and Courtney, which may come as a surprise to some. Courtney’s tortured reasoning behind her slut-shaming is emphatic for those who struggle with coming out even in this modern age. This dimension adds yet more realism to the idea that not every teenager is the same.
10) The chemistry between the characters is undeniable throughout, from the tormented Jessica and Justin, to the unknowing Hannah and Clay, to the struggling Mr and Mrs Baker.
11) While no lawsuit exists in the book, the effect of suicide on Hannah’s parents adds a more adult dimension, making it watchable for all ages. It could act as a cautionary tale. Though our parents were teenagers once, they lived in a different age – one where photos couldn’t be texted round for all to see; and drugs and alcohol weren’t so readily available – so the show provides a rather more accurate insight into our world (probably better than if they took it from Skins).
“a cautionary tale.”
12) In contrast to the books, Clay takes his sweet time listening to the tapes, allowing him ample time to digest and occasionally seek revenge for Hannah’s reasons. It’s frustrating because, if you’re like me then, you really want to know every reason straight away (hello, that’s why I watched it all in two days), but it also matches Clay’s character. His love for Hannah makes it heart-breaking to listen to her voice and know that’s all he has left of her. Of course, it needed to be stretched out for the series to fit into thirteen episodes, but the characterisation of Clay disregards that.
13) 13 Reasons Why is far from just a teen show. It’s a complex exploration into the teenage psyche from all angles – the jock, the outcast, the slut, the cheerleader, the nerd and the romantic. While the focus is Hannah and Clay, all characters were affected by her suicide in some way, be it guilt, remorse, anger or sadness, or even just plain disregard. It’s a story that will stand the test of time.
Nevertheless, while 13 Reasons Why tackles a myriad of issues usually glossed over or romanticised in other shows, at the end you can’t help but feel dissatisfied. Hannah is still dead. But maybe that’s the beauty of it.
Mental Health Services:
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues covered by this review, the following organisations may be able to help:
Exeter University Wellbeing Centre: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/wellbeing/contact/
Mind Organisation: http://www.mind.org.uk
Anxiety: anxietyuk.org.uk / 08444 775 774