These days high school drama shows are not hard to find, but they are hard to like. They are usually the same old over-romanticised, over-materialised, over the top crap. However, 13 Reasons Why is different. While it may not be real as such, there is a more realistic feel to it than any other teen show in recent years.
Mental illness, suicide, rape – it is rare to find issues as serious as these addressed in a show and it is even rarer to find them addressed well. 13 Reasons Why breaks the boundaries that no other show has broken before. It does this accurately, realistically and without sugar coating major issues.
The show is based on a book of the same name written by Jay Asher. It follows the story of the suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford) and the aftermath of her death. Hannah leaves behind 13 sides of cassette tape in which she explains what lead her to kill herself.
Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette) receives the tapes and proceeds to put the pieces of this mystery together. We naturally assume Clay is first to receive these tapes but it soon becomes clear that there have been others before him. In fact, Clay is number 11.
Each side of the cassette tapes concern one of Hannah’s wrongdoers. They must follow the instructions Hannah has left; they must listen, learn from what they have done, and pass the tapes on to the next person. She wants them to realise their actions had consequences, one grave consequence. She wants them to know the 13 reasons why.
The show is laid out extremely well, considering we see Hannah’s tragedy unfold across two timelines. We see flashbacks of all the things that pushed her to her breaking point and the present-day story, where the naive Clay frantically attempts to understand and avenge the death of the girl he loves.
The show takes you through a rollercoaster of emotions and as soon as you think you have figured it out it throws another curveball. One minute you think Hannah has lied about everything on the tapes, the next you want to scream at the people who hurt her so much.
The show keeps you addicted because it is intense, but also because it is so relatable, especially to this generation. It includes bullying, violence, a car crash, sex, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, suicide, rape and many more real issues that teens experience during their youth.
Despite being critically acclaimed as Netflix’s best original show in years, it is not without faults. Unlike the others, Clay Jensen does not listen to the tapes all at once and then passes them on. He takes a long time to get through them. He takes too long. We know he is trying to figure it all out and bring justice but the slow pace of Clay drags it out for the viewer. You can’t help but wish he would just get on with it.
The biggest fault in the series is the portrayal of Hannah’s suicide. The scene in which she takes her own life is more than graphic. There are warnings at the start of the episode, but if they are missed or not taken seriously, this scene could be a serious trigger to some.
The reason behind the explicitness of the suicide scene and the rape scenes is to make us witness the brutality of such things. They want people to know that suicide and rape should not be brushed under the rug and ignored. Essentially, they are trying to break the stigma and portray reality. However, producers seem to have ignored the fact that it might cause more harm than good to viewers, especially vulnerable teens.
Some people have criticised the show for having an incompetent counsellor who knew about Hannah’s issues. However, it is actually an accurate depiction of how mental health services are not what they should be. They can miss things, they can be wrong, and so, they can’t save everyone.
Overall, 13 Reasons Why is an incredible show. It is not far from perfect but it is clever and more importantly, it is different. It addresses real issues in a way that many shows before it have failed to do. It is tragic, but in the end we are left with a feeling of hope. We hope that every person who watches will realise the same thing; words and actions can hurt, and they do have consequences.
The acting, the writing and the production all contribute to a fantastic viewing experience, but it is the message of the show that makes it stand out from everything else. That is; you never know how much your words and actions can hurt someone. Always be kind.