I debated for a long time if I should write about the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why”. While it was the most tweeted show on the day of its release, it is surrounded by dark and somewhat controversial topics of teenage suicide.
The series “13 Reasons Why” is the adaptation of the book by Jay Asher and the executive producer of the series in none other then Selena Gomez the famous Disney star and now pop singer. She produced the show because she too has also dealt with paralyzing effects of depression.
Hannah Baker (played by Australian actress Katherine Langford) recently committed suicide. In true high school fashion suddenly the whole school wants to be consumed in the drama. Her locker is fully decorated with students endearing words to a girl they never really were friends with in the first place – using opportune moments to take selfies in front of her locker tweeting #neverforget.
The plot picks up because she leaves behind a series of tapes. Each side of the cassette tapes concerns one of Hannah’s wrongdoers. Along with telling the story of her suicide, the show deals with difficult topics such as bullying, rape and guilt. And dare I say, incompetent teachers, counselors and adults.
“Hey, it’s Hannah, Hannah Baker. That’s right. Don’t adjust your… whatever device you’re listening to this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore. And this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you the story of my life.”
As a viewer though it become pretty clear early on that there are many requests and engagements she is able to conjure up from the grave. Hannah has certain rules such as 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 that resulted in one grave cause of action. It’s important to note she is all about old school methods of sharing her story. This is because she was defamed via the Internet after her first kiss.
Clay Jensen played by Dylan Minnette is a relatively shy high school student who actually cared for Hannah. He is one of the first people to be confronted with messages from the grave. Just like everyone else he never meant to let her down but the tragic story unfolds and he will soon discover more clearly his role in her decision to end her life. Clay is somewhat of an outcast at school who is besieged with guilt so while the rest of his classmates are trying to move on from this tragic death, he is being consumed by it.
Each episode of the show is driven by one of the 13 recordings and the person who played a central role in Hannah’s life experiences. If any of them fails to follow the instructions there is a second copy of the tapes looming over each of them ensuring they play along with her twisted game of revenge suicide.
The story shows adults, or maybe even those of us who are no longer in high school, what it feels like to be a teenager again – how quickly things can fall apart and how people’s actions matter. While critics and parents worry about the over sensationalising of suicide, I can’t help but feel this show does not sugarcoat all the complexities of mental illness.
The show is shot seamlessly – going between present moments to flashback/hallucination scenes. The narration was cleverly placed and always made sense and I loved the way the scenes blended together and reflected each other in the past and present. The overall dialogue is witty and in your face and there are no overly timid characters. Also the series is very good at capturing nostalgic aspects for those of us who remember our high school days and experienced similar trauma.
Hannah’s stories are all deeply interwoven and it’s shocking to see how each character is drawn into the drama. The acting, the writing and the production all contribute to a captivating viewing experience.
The fundamental message is we are all complicit in each other’s self-annihilation. So #FML and sit back and consume some dark yet real life modern high school drama viewing. But please remember #YOLO – killing yourself is not a solution.