Netflix’s latest hit series, 13 Reasons Why, has been making waves since its release on 31st March. Adapted from a YA novel of the same name, the show quickly became the platform’s ‘most-tweeted-about’ series of all time, despite (or perhaps thanks to) its coverage of dark subject matter – something that we will discuss later. The series covers the story of teen Clay Jensen who, while reeling from the news of the suicide of classmate Hannah Baker, is shocked to learn that she left behind a series of cassette tapes, each side naming an individual who contributed towards her decision to take her life.
13 Reasons Why is littered with clichés of American high schools; jocks, cheerleaders, fights, school dances, house parties and a diner all feature, as do many others.
This plot fits neatly with the 13-episode structure of the season – but here, neat isn’t necessarily a good thing. While each episode shows Clay as he listens to the next side of tape, it is often surprisingly difficult to distinguish just what the reason being given is. The reasons increase in intensity with every tape, presumably in order to illustrate the way in which Hannah’s troubles or dark thoughts accumulate as time progresses; the effect that results, however, is that the first half of this thirteen-episode season feels tedious to watch, like a technicality that you have to drag your way through in order to reach something more interesting.
Not only that, but 13 Reasons Why is littered with clichés of American high schools; jocks, cheerleaders, fights, school dances, house parties and a diner all feature, as do many others. Additionally – as with many other teen dramas – the cast is consistently attractive and often made to spout grating, artificial dialogue. This isn’t the only new show to do this, with Riverdale sharing many of these tropes; what Riverdale does differently (and better), however, is that it is more self-aware, even seeming to intelligently parody itself.
Another issue of the show is that fact that its two main characters, Clay and Hannah, are not inherently likeable. Obviously, there are many moments in which we empathise with and pity these leads – particularly in later episodes – but there are some irritating pieces of dialogue that, at times, make this rather difficult. Dylan Minnette, who plays Clay, also spends a majority of the episodes sporting an expression akin to that of Kristen Stewart in Twilight, which, as you can probably imagine, becomes tiring very quickly.
That’s not to say that he is a bad actor; in fact, in the moments of more intense emotion, Minnette shines, drawing a genuine, visceral reaction from the viewer. Similarly, the rest of the cast is strong, most notably Kate Walsh (Hannah’s mother) and Alisha Boe (Jessica). There are other positive elements of the show, too: the transitions between past and present, while occasionally confusing (or dependent on small physical details), are also often creative and well executed. Most of all, though, this show sticks with you. Even when the episodes themselves might seem dull or tedious, you will find yourself thinking about it, about its messages and themes, and about how it makes you feel.
Rewinding back to the dark topics covered by 13 Reasons Why, you have probably seen at least some of the media controversy around this show. Celebrities like actresses Shannon Purser and Anna Akana have openly criticised its treatment of suicide, even encouraging viewers to avoid it, as have some leading charities. As an individual with limited knowledge on this subject, I was struck by the fact that the show makes Hannah’s actions seem mysterious and almost glamorous, as well as showing her attempts at revenge as being successful.
To wind back to basics, then, 13 Reasons Why does have some good elements – and it is clear that real talent has gone into its production. Perhaps, however, the show might have unknowingly followed in Pepsi’s footsteps, tackling a serious subject without all of the relevant knowledge, and therefore creating something that, for many, does more harm than good.