STARRING: Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn, Justin Prentice, Miles Heizer, Ross Butler, Devin Druid, Michele Selene Ang, Amy Hargreaves, Derek Luke and Kate Walsh
Clay Jensen, in his quest to uncover the story behind his classmate and crush, Hannah, and her decision to end her life.
13 Reasons Why centres on the story of a young girl named Hannah Baker tragically committing suicide, devastating her classmate Clay Jensen, who had a crush on her. A few weeks after her death he returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it, containing cassette tapes recorded by Hannah, detailing the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life.
13 Reasons Why is the latest television series offering from Netflix that was released on the streaming service on the 31st March, which is based on the young adult novel written by Jay Asher that was published in 2007 and has been adapted for the small screen by Brian Yorkey. The series focuses on the dual narratives of Clay Jensen in the present day and Hannah Baker in the past, as Hannah tragically commits suicide and one day Clay is given a package that contains thirteen tapes made by Hannah explaining the thirteen reasons why she ended her life from her perspective, with each tape focusing on one particular person. As Clay learns that he reason he has the tapes is because he is included in one of the thirteen tapes, his life as well as those mentioned in the tapes begin to take a darker journey into the unknown as they come to terms with the meaning behind the tapes. The project initially was set to become a film adaptation back in 2011 when Universal Studios obtained the rights to the novel, with Selena Gomez set to play Hannah Baker. When the project never took off, Netflix announced they were making a television adaptation in 2015, with Selena Gomez staying onboard the project, though in an executive producer capacity.
I’ve never read Jay Asher’s novel but I must say for the most part I thought this television adaptation was very well done. The balance of the narratives between Clay and Hannah in the present/past are constructed seamlessly together throughout the series episode run, as Clay wanders through various locations which happen to highlight a particular moment in Hannah’s life that she talks about in the tapes, breaking up the differences between the past and present with changes in lighting and colouring. The show in the early episodes creates an air of mystery/intrigue as Clay is listening to the types, he realises certain classmates are acting nicer around him which leads to him having a guardian angel of sorts in Tony, who knows about the tapes and appears at the most convenient of times, creating doubt in Clay’s mind on whether to trust him or not. As the mystery lingers, doubt is created amongst the characters involved in the tapes as they dispute Hannah’s perspective of events, though you question whether or not it is primarily to cover their own involvement in leading Hannah down the route that she decided to end her life. As we start following Clay listening to the tapes, the first few are bad and then proceed to become more darker as the tapes and the series progresses and highlighting how those awful things that happened to Hannah at the start . The series is directed between Kyle Patrick Alvarez (The Stanford Prison Experiment), Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin), Carl Franklin (One False Move), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and Jessica Yu (Protagonist), and is very well done in that department, as is the score provided by Brendan Angelides aka Eskmo. There is some very good performances from the series also worth mentioning – Dylan Minnette provides a really good performance as Clay, often subtle in containing his characters emotional turmoil as he listens to what happened to Hannah as well as trying to get the tape where he’s mentioned to see how he was involved in Hannah’s decision to commit suicide. He’s a young actor that that impressed me as of late with his recent performances in Goosebumps and Don’t Breathe and here he handles the most mature material yet and is one of the highlights of the series. Katherine Langford’s breakout performance as Hannah Baker is also really good as she a heartbreaking amount of vulnerability and rawness to the character. Christian Navarro also made a memorable impression to me as Tony Padilla, as his scenes with Dylan Minnette’s Clay felt the most sincere, Miles Heizer was also good as Alex Standall, one of the students mentioned in Hannah’s tapes that genuinely feels guilty for being responsible in hurting Hannah and Kate Walsh is the one adult performer here worth mentioning positively as she plays the emotional, shattered shell of a mother who has lost her child in Hannah.
As good as the first few episodes are, the narrative starts to become stale in the middle portion of the series as Clay takes his time in listening to the tapes as the pain of Hannah being gone is too difficult and then at times he demands to know what happened, only to be told that to listen to the next tape and when you hear the same thing for a few episodes in a row you will find yourself just shouting at Clay to just listen to the bloody tapes already. While the show takes its time in developing the group of teenagers that are now caught up in the destructive nature of Hannah’s tape, unfortunately the majority of the adults that recur here are somewhat paper thin outside of Hannah’s parents. Derek Luke’s school counsellor Mr. Porter in particular just didn’t work for me as the character was placed into the bracket of ‘really terrible in their field’. The side plot of a looming court case from the parents doesn’t feel that important to the story until the finale which ends on a note that not everything has to be resolved, but yet it leaves too many things unresolved that some will feel, including myself, that Netflix could be aiming to conclude the series with a second season. It that happens then I’ll be disappointed as I feel that it will be difficult to make the second season as intriguing, gripping as the first and the story overall works much better as a limited series. The series also doesn’t shy away from the graphic scenes that include rape as well as Hannah’s suicide. While a number of shows will skip toward the next scene to leave the destructive impact of these scenes out, afraid of the reaction from viewers and broadcasters, here the series emotionally devastates you with these scenes and for some it could be considered too much….too real.
13 Reasons Why deals a really good job focusing on the competitive culture and frustrations that teenagers go through on a daily occurrence in High School, as well as the secrets they keep from their parents as well as each other. Here every action has a lingering consequence, even though we might not believe it does at the time. The series also has breakout worthy performances from Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, both of them sharing an honest portrayal of teenage friendship and yearning for happiness in their lives. While the narrative becomes repetitive in the middle patch of the series, the show strikes an important commentary of suicide, one in which is worth discussing about how a person can affect another and how we should listen more to each others problems and learn to understand each other better. 8/10