13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s newest series, enthralls viewers who want to know why Hannah Baker committed suicide. The series premiered March 31 and centers around traumatic events including sexual assault, bullying, mental illness and suicide. Executive producer Selena Gomez created the series from Jay Asher‘s best selling novel.
The series opens with one undeniable fact: Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford, show), a teenage girl, killed herself. Hannah left a series of tapes naming 13 people she blames for her suicide. The tapes serve as a chain letter passed from accused classmate to classmate.
The tapes eventually lands in the confound hands of Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette, show), a caring, shy guy who crushed on Hannah. The show begins with his discovery of the tapes, and the rest of the 13-hour story occurs half in present time and half in flashback to reveal how the events occurred. This past and present story captivates viewers as they wonder what Clay did to be in Hannah’s list.
The story soon becomes an unconventional murder mystery, thanks to the way in which it unveils the tragedy.
The show tricks viewers into falling in love with a dead girl, personifying her as a kind, smart teenager, a sort of fundamentally weird move from the producers. On-screen chemistry between Clay and Hannah display’s her flaws and strengths in life. The directing and performing hooks audiences, and deeply invests them in the fictional personas seen on screen from Hannah’s rape in episode 12 to her suicide in episode 13.
When it comes to a suburban teen’s suicide, the reality breaks into a larger-scale tragedy that happens every day around the world where students are bullied and harassed. But where 13 Reasons Why excels is the attention to detail it brings to this one specific death, making it so deeply personal that it feels like the loss of a dear friend.
The show appeals to teenagers because it is jammed with familiar teen stereotypes: rich, privileged jocks and stressed-out overachievers, as well as other teen movie benchmarks, like a school dance and a drunken house party where every social strata comes head-to-head.
Clay listens to the recordings one at a time and confronts the other characters. He argues with them and quizzes them to find out their part in Hannah’s suicide.
13 Reasons Why makes brilliant use of Clay’s occasional tendency to wonder what might have been if he told Hannah how he felt. However, these fantasy sequences get overused in other areas of the series mainly toward in the middle of the 13 episodes. Viewers find themselves angry at him, wanting him to listen to the rest of tapes already.
In the middle of the series, the show begins to lag. Although Netflix admirably fleshes the book out, a few of the kids Hannah accuses don’t have enough plot to fill an hour episode. While the thought to make an episode for each of Hannah’s 13 reasons is understandable, her story probably could have been told in a quicker seven to eight-hour run.
Clay’s fantasies of what he could have done differently for Hannah gives the show its most powerful punch. While he wonders how things could have turned out if he had told her he liked her in a number of situations, so does the audience.
The smart performance from Minnette serves as a reason to stick with the show. It builds up suspense to last until the last few episodes. Jessica Yu, director of last four episodes, Carl Franklin and Kyle Patrick Alvarez, directors of two others, achieve a momentum and gravity somewhat equal to its subject matter.
The first season’s conclusion leaves the door wide open for more episodes. Bryce (Justin Prentice, show) facing sexual assault charges, Alex’s (Miles Heizer, show) attempted suicide and Tyler’s (Devin Druid, show) potential school shooting provides ample material that would allow the series to continue exploring the aftermath of Hannah’s death and the unanswered questions of the other characters.
Show: 13 Reasons Why
Starring: Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford
Genre: Drama and Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars