2 years

Review: 13 Reasons Why (2017)

We can sadly probably think of 13 reasons why you shouldn’t watch Selena Gomez’s ‘passion project’...

A review of 13 Reasons Why

From the clunky opening credits that appear to have been made on Microsoft Powerpoint, you are aware 13 Reasons Why isn’t one of Netflix’s big budget attempts to outgun all competition (ahem, hi The Crown). Indeed, 13 Reasons Why promises a refreshing attempt by Netflix to bring some indie, simpler, lower-budget shows to the channel – which is good news for those of us who have been so dazzled by the ambition of titles such as The Crown, Stranger Things and The OA that the premise of a teenage drama about depression feels strangely light-hearted.

And the premise is a good one – we follow Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he comes to terms with the suicide of one of his classmates and friends. Clay’s world is shaken further however, when he receives a tape with said girl’s voice on. Hannah (Katherine Langford) dictates that these tapes include ‘the story of my life. More specifically why my life ended and if you’re listening to this tape… you’re one of the reasons why’. LOVE IT!

As the series is based on a best-selling book penned by Jay Asher, it is unsurprising the show has a killer idea behind it and it certainly grabs your attention and maintains a strong tension for the first couple of episodes. The storyline is driven by the underlying questions this inciting incident induces: Why has our seeming protagonist been sent this tape? What messed up shit did he do? Do we trust him? Why is this TV show not as good as it should be? Argh, sadly it is true and there are at least 13 reasons why the show doesn’t deliver on this great opening.

Predominantly, it is disappointing that a series that starts with such promise has such an atrocious script which undermines the narrative continuously. 13 Reasons Why explores some dark territory and suggests early on that it will be far more thoughtful than a tacky teen drama about snogging and social media.

The script, however, is constantly repositioning it in the area of Disney channel high-school programmes, with the kids quoting cringing phrases such as ‘FML forever’ (does this even make sense?). When Clay jokes ‘it’s like asking Han Solo how is space?’ and Hannah retorts, ‘Wow, you’re an actual nerd aren’t you?’ it is difficult to imagine how anyone ever thought this level of clichéd stereotyping would sound convincing to anyone.

The poignant themes of sex, drugs, bullying, parent-child relationships, depression and many more clearly suggest 13 Reasons Why had ambitions to be an important series for teenage viewers. Yet these thought-provoking topics are not successfully translated on screen. This is mostly down to the script, but there are also fairly one-dimensional characters which back up the scripts stereotyping and lack of realism (evil sex-crazed jocks, creepy nerds etc).

Moreover, the fairly inexperienced cast seem to struggle to convey the genuine emotion needed with the odd exception, such as Minnette’s promising portrayal of the awkward Clay. Selena Gomez has stated this show is a ‘passion project’ that addresses these aspects of young life and I couldn’t help wondering if a more experienced hand (perhaps Gomez herself) might have helped communicate these important themes more clearly. Frustratingly, Katherine Langford’s portrayal of Hannah was not what this show needed at its core, forming a lack of empathy with the girl on which the script revolves.

Overall, 13 Reasons Why shows some decent direction but misses the mark on this occasion. However, more positively, it is exciting to see Netflix investing in these shows and the platform continues to bring new and unexpected content which demonstrate great ambition.

  • A great premise and some strong themes
  • Poor execution and a dire script

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    I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with your opinion on '13 Reasons Why'. In terms of the script, there was never a moment that I didn't believe these could be real people. You note the phrase "FML forever" as if it doesn't make sense. I would agree that the "forever" part is unnecessary, but it wasn't cringe-worthy. I've heard much much worse in good shows like Supernatural, etc. If you don't find it believable that a teenager would say "FML forever", then I don't think you're very familiar with the vernacular of teenagers today. But, even if you find that line impossible to believe, there are many other occasions of note-worthy dialogue and completely raw moments that shouldn't be ignored. I also have to disagree with you on the stereotype thing. Not sure if you remember the character "Jeff", but he defied all stereotypes. He was a jock but he was close friends with Clay, they helped each other. Clay helped him with school, Jeff helped him with his social life and helped with Hannah. He wasn't a bully, he was a nice and genuine kid. When Clay visits Jeff's parents to apologize for being mad at Jeff, they note that he always talked about Clay and how he was helping him with school, etc. He wasn't an asshole, he was grateful for Clay's help, and enjoyed being friends with him, who may be considered a "nerd". Which defies all "Jock" archetypes. He was a good kid and it's heart-breaking to learn about what happened to him. Justin may be considered a "stereotypical jock", but even he isn't one dimensional. We learn about his family situation and the things he's had to deal with at home. He doesn't have a father figure in his life, he doesn't even have a mother. His mother sides with her abusive boyfriends because she doesn't have the guts to stand up for herself and her son. At the end of the season he realizes that he needs to leave because his mother has chosen against him over and over. Back to the script thing. Here's a quote: "Look at these lockers. They all look alike, right? Not this one. This one is special. It belonged to a girl who killed herself. You see all these 'don't kill yourself' posters up on the wall? They weren't up before. They put them up *because* she killed herself. And why did she do it? Because the kids here treated her like shit! But no one wants to admit it, so they paint over the bathrooms and put up a memorial, because that's the kind of school that this is. Everyone is just *so nice* until they drive you to kill yourself. " "But you can't get away from yourself. You can't decide not to see yourself anymore. You can't decide to turn off the noise in your head". You think "FML forever" outweighs the profound things that are in this script? Even if the script isn't perfect, or if the title sequence looks low-budget, why does that outweigh the importance of the message in this show? Not everything is about how much money was put into a project. The last thing I'll point out is that the cast's performance deserves more credit than you're giving them. I want to ask you this: did you cry at any point while watching this show? With that I'll leave you with this tumblr post: "The entire series is an introspective look on how we treat and handle suicide in incorrect, detached ways. We blame everyone but ourselves. Or we only blame ourselves.We blame the dead. Or we don’t put any blame on the dead. We mourn so we don’t feel guilty, or we mourn so we can be part of the situation, find a piece of the attention, so we can be seen. We jump on Facebook and Twitter and post different ways to “get help now” or that “you’re not alone”, but we don’t stop and ask what we ourselves might be doing to make someone feel that way. We don’t change our behavior. We don’t realize that every little thing we do or say can hit home for someone in a way that can profoundly effect them for the rest of their lives. Sometimes we’re the bullies, sometimes we’re the spectators. But we forget that spectating harmful behavior, can be just as bad as doing the deed itself. The point of the series is that we focus on the wrong issues. We place blame in the wrong places. We put band aids on open wounds that aren’t healing and think we’ve made a difference. We make suicide a social media movement instead of figuring out how to stop it from actually happening. I’m not saying Hannah Baker didn’t deserve better. Because she did. But this series wasn’t created so you can pick your favorite character, stan them, ship them, hashtag and tweet about them. You know why? Because no one should be your favorite character. Because everyone killed Hannah Baker. This series is meant to show you a realistic portrayal of how we are all part of the problem. It’s meant to shine a light on the fact that we need to wake up and be a part of the solution that goes beyond social media statues and misplaced guilt after the fact of tragedy. It’s meant to make you think, talk, discuss…open your eyes to your surroundings, actually change your own behavior and stop glamorizing or romanticizing teen suicide (or suicide at all). It’s not meant to be a CW show. It’s meant to be real life. If you don’t feel guilty at the end of this series, if you don’t realize that there was a time in your life where you were a part of the problem, when you were part of the hurt…then watch it again. And keep watching it until you get what they are trying to tell you." This is why the series is important and I don't think it should be judged for it's quick title sequence or one possibly cheesy line.
    • Jamie - how wonderful to hear your contrasting opinion! It sounds as if you were profoundly affected by the series and I have met many people who adored it. I hope you've written your own review! x
  • I enjoyed this show and did find it gripping throughout, but felt it didn't exactly tie everything up at the end. Maybe they're baiting a sequel, as the photography student, Tyler, stocking up weapons for a school shooting. We also didn't get closure on Bryce's character, following his confession to Clay. But a sequel wouldn't feel right as they tied up Clay and Hannah's stories nicely. I agree with your comments about FML forever, as I don't feel the characters said it with the irony that was intended!