13 Reasons Why starts out with the voice of a girl who has committed suicide. “A rumor based on a kiss, ruined a memory I’d hoped would be special.” Hannah’s ghost voice shares. “In fact, it ruined just about everything.”
I just got done binge watching Thirteen Reasons Why. I know this isn’t the usual horror I write about, but I felt strongly about it. This heavy story, shown exclusively on Netflix, depicts the flood of angst that is what makes up the psyche of an American teen. Some people have a great experience in high school, but many teens don’t, and as adults, good or bad experience aside, we’ve all been there.
13 Reasons Why is Netflix’s first attempt to offer up a series this serious for its teenage audience. Issues as huge as bullying, sexual assault and suicide. Heavy indeed! But I am not the only adult watching it. One reason for me, is that I have a teen who I know had some unfair accusations in school and the shaming that followed. Why are people so cruel? I wish I had paid more attention and asked more questions, but social media has changed the world so much as to make it almost impossible for a pre-internet person to navigate the world their teen lives in these days. For that reason I will always feel guilty, that I missed out on the chance to help my own child.
The other reason the show was so awkwardly compelling for me (like a train wreck kind of thing) was that high school for me was a nightmare. I was left damaged, socially inept and anxious about every personal interaction that came after. My life was very similar to the main character Hannah’s was, but I decided not to make the one big choice she did, and I’m still alive. I was lucky enough to have one friend I confided in, who helped me through the horror that being sexually assaulted can bring to a young girl. As most of my friends left the hormonal and crazy world of high school behind them, fairly unscathed, I was left scared and afraid to believe in myself, all self-confidence gone. I look back now, with life experience as my perspective, and realize if I had just gotten a little more help, well, I might have moved on sooner. I’m glad social media didn’t exist when I was a teen. All that drama and craziness we went through during high school seems a lot less important now, but watching 13 Reasons Why, I’m reminded of how end-of-the-world every little problem seemed at the time.
Jay Asher, the author of the book 13 Reasons Why said, “The whole subject of suicide is uncomfortable to talk about, but it happens and we have to talk about it, It’s dangerous not to talk about it. Because there’s always room for hope.” I have to agree. Most people find it easier to avoid the subject, feeling like by bringing it up, that simply mentioning it, can make it happen. But it does have to be discussed. The only way to make people understand what a rape survivor has gone though, is to talk about it. The more times you tell your story, the less power it has over you.
Executive Producer Selena Gomez said they tried very hard to make the show something they could be proud of. “We wanted to do it in a way that was honest. She said. “We wanted to make something that could hopefully help people. Suicide should never ever be an option.”
So other than the fact that I connected with the story, what can I say to convince you, why YOU should watch it, right? Is there a point to all my rambling? Yes. I think it was a well done series. It’s a story that grown-ups can relate to, not just a story directed at teenagers.
First off, I really love the characters. It’s high school and that right there is one big stereotype. Now not everyone experiences it the same, but I think that it’s not that far off using all the kids we remember at a high school, because they were really there. Much like in the movie The Breakfast Club, we all had the jocks, the cheerleaders, the nerds, the mean girls, goths, stoners, brains, etc. But 13 Reason Why takes us a little deeper into the characters, gives them some depth, makes them much more interesting and we see them dealing with their own off-campus lives. Is the show a bit campy? Yes, indeed, but that helps soften the blow of the serious subject.
I thought the acting was really well done. Dylan Minnette as Clay (I loved him in Don’t Breathe) is who the show revolves around. He is the current recipient of cassette tapes made by Hannah (Katherine Langford) before she kills herself, and the person we see the most. He goes back and forth from past to present, as he listens to the dead girls anguish and reasons for leaving this world. He plays the nice guy that still manages to screw things up.
The entire cast is fantastic, but both Langford and Minnette really carry the show. You spend a lot of time with both Clay and Hannah, and these actors do not disappoint. But the rest of the cast is also fantastic, including Christian Navarro as Tony, Brandon Flynn as Justin and Kate Walsh as Hannah’s mother.
Not only are the characters complex and sympathetic, the story goes beyond simple teen drama. Being a show about bullying and harassment leading to teenager suicide, it’s easy to imagine that the ones to blame are the typical bullies. Well, it isn’t completely. The series shows that kind of harassment, however, it also shows the damage that people and even close friends who don’t intend to hurt any one, can cause. From the friend who stops showing interest, to the guy who only tried to help but messed it up, one doesn’t need to be the joke of the class to identify with these stories. People make mistakes, and others get hurt. This is a suicide story, but it’s also a story about a community affected by loss. Parents, teachers, businesses. And I think that for all its flaws that it will ultimately be a really profound and important TV show for many young people.
I have to mention my two super pet peeves, I can’t help it.
1) The makeup was terrible!! I know they use the band-aid and head injury on Clay to keep us from being confused about whether we are in the past or present- but since it’s constantly in close-up it should have looked good. It was awful and badly done. For such a good show, I am surprised that got past the first episode.
2) Even though I liked the actors, most of them were no where near being teens. Why? I know there are equally as talented teen actors out there. Just sayin’.
Do they glamorize suicide? That is my one worry. I hope it doesn’t do the opposite of the creators desire. But bullying is real and we can’t underestimate it. I hope 13 Reasons Why makes someone stop and think about whats bothering them and then go kick those stupid people’s asses!