TV Review: “13 Reasons Why” – Uninspired

Written by Sydney O'Keefe May 28, 2017

thirteen reasons why

13 Reasons Why is the sensational Netflix original series that has taken over the world with its controversial depiction of suicide and depression. It has even been banned in schools due to Hannah Baker’s graphic suicide and horrific guilt trip suicide note via cassette tapes, and the overlapping themes of sexual assault, depression, anxiety and suicide.

Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) is a sophomore at Liberty High. After killing herself, she leaves cassette tapes that depict flashbacks of the thirteen previous abuses. As she counts down the reasons and people that drove Hannah to suicide, we get to watch the lovable and awkward admirer of Hannah, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), who deals with his own anxiety and depression in the aftermath. Clay struggles with the realization that he was a bystander for most of Hannah’s bullying. While we watch Hannah show the typical signs of a depressed and suicidal person in flashbacks, we also see one of Hannah’s friends turned bully, Alex (Miles Heizer), go through the same signs of depression and suicidal thoughts.

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.”

The script of 13 Reasons Why is not exceptional; I have it on good authority that the book is considerably better than its on-screen counterpart. The most overwhelming complaints against the series is the lack of empathy people feel towards Hannah’s plight. While she covers some very common and serious issues that face teenage girls – slut-shaming, bullying, and sexual assault – many viewers have found some grievances raised by Hannah to be exaggerated. I find this popular opinion a little hard to swallow. Stalking, rape, and slut shaming are serious issues that could easily make someone depressed. However, there are some parts of the series that make it hard to feel sympathetic towards Hannah despite what she goes through. The biggest example to me is Hannah’s callous attitude towards her parents, especially her mother. Mrs. Baker spends the series, after finding her daughter dead in the bathtub, trying to figure out what happened to her daughter. Mrs. Baker is forced to guess and interrogate teenagers because her daughter did not leave her any goodbye or any explanation.

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Hannah is a complex character, she is likeable and unlikable, but I suppose that makes her a realistic character. Having mental illness is complicated; people are sympathetic but there’s also a stigma for not being better or stronger. There is a universality to her character. The most telling quote of the series being from Marcus, who said to Clay that Hannah didn’t go through anything that every other teenage girl hasn’t gone through. And while Marcus’s attitude seems harsh and cavalier, it’s also true. And I don’t say that to disparage Hannah and say that she is weak in comparison to others. The gravity of Marcus’s statement is that high school, and the world, is misogynistic and a cruel reality for girls.

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people.”

Despite this one moment that I thought had true gravitas, the rest of the script and characters are lacklustre. It’s easy to feel bad for Jeff Atkins (Brandon Larracuente) – who dies in a car accident and is then wrongfully accused of being drunk. And Jessica (Alisha Boe), who is raped by her boyfriend’s best friend while her boyfriend does nothing to stop him. As she pieces together what happened to her and her boyfriend’s role in it, she becomes one of the most sympathetic and complex characters. Jessica’s story line leaves open the possibility of following her story through the trial of her rapist. These characters are easy to feel bad for, but most of them aren’t characters that truly draw in the audience.

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Overall I think the characters and the script left a lot to be desired. Making a show about teen suicide will be sad and controversial no matter what; however, I don’t think they managed to make 13 Reasons Why as powerful as it should have been. Netflix has committed to a second season that’s rumoured to focus on school shootings. A new season without Hannah’s narration is likely to reach more viewers and be more relatable. I hope that in season 2 of 13 Reasons Why they’re able to better drive home the message of the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

My Rating: 5/10

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