Note: 13 Reasons Why contains distressing and triggering scenes. Proceed with caution.
13 Reasons Why is an Adaptation of the best-selling young-adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, which, for all the gamers out there, sort of reminds me of DontNod Entertainment’s story-driven game Life Is Strange.
The show follows 17-year-old Clay Jensen as he returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on the porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who tragically committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life, and Clay might be on the list.
While we try to avoid spoilers, from time to time they may sneak in, so bare this in mind before reading the list below.
Thirteen reasons why you need to watch 13 Reasons Why:
1 . The show isn’t just for teens:
13 Reasons Why may seem like your typical angsty teen drama, but it is so much more.
Sure, the show does involve a heap of high-school orientated problems that are important in their own right but generally aren’t relatable to those who have left school gates behind for good. i.e. high-school love, teen-bullying, and general crappy school experiences. But, it also delves into other horrifying and deadly serious events that can, and do happen to high-school-aged teens as well as adults and everyone in between.
In its early episodes, the show seemed similar to Channel 4’s 2011 suicide drama Cyberbully which raised similar issues but generally focused on teen issues exasperated by shitty friendships and social media. However, as 13 Reasons Why crept along, and Hannah’s story began to unfold, we were met with raw, heartbreaking scenes of suicide, and its messy, gruesome reality.
In some respects, the show contained so many detailed scenes that it was more akin to a realistic horror/thriller film than a teenage drama.
Which leads me to my next point…
2 . Brutally honest scenes:
There are no jump-cuts. You will see a horrifyingly raw, realistic, and slow building scene of death, and it will probably leave you with a horrible feeling in your gut – the kind that no horror film has ever achieved.
Unlike many shows and films that depict scenes of suicide, when things get rough in 13 Reasons Why the show does not pan to the wall and start playing dramatic music, or jump-cut to some other characters having the time of their lives. Instead, the scenes are long and drawn out, leaving you feeling uncomfortable and utterly useless. – Which coincidently is how the main character feels throughout the 13-part series.
Why is this a good thing?
When shows or movies shy away from the brutal reality of suicide, what is left is a romanticised scene that does not really affect the viewer in the way that such a distressing moment should.
3 . Cinematography & colour
13 Reasons Why is created by Brian Yorkey, with 2 Primetime Emmy nominated Ivan Strasburg (Temple Grandin) and Andrij Parekh (Blue Valentine) working on the show’s cinematography.
While I am by no means an expert in cinematography or colour in cinema, there is no denying that 13 Reasons Why looked good, and the level of commitment to the show’s aesthetic appeal was evident from episode one.
13 Reasons Why uses clever camera angles, and unlike many flashback-driven shows resisted the urge to create flashback scenes with an un-unrealistic dream-like glow or an annoyingly extreme blur effect.
4 . Acting
13 Reasons Why stars Dylan Minnette (Prisoners, Don’t Breathe, Goosebumps) and Katherine Langford (Daughter), alongside Christian Navarro (Vinyl, Rosewood), Justin Prentice (Awkward) and Ross Butler (Riverdale), among many others.
The show boasts some strong dynamic performances, with Dylan Minnette‘s character Clay going from a solemn teen who is consistently walked over by his peers, to a slightly out-of-control rage-filled teen who wants to fight back and does not care how bad he gets hurt while trying to bring Hannah justice. Meanwhile, Katherine Langford‘s heartbreaking performance depicted the harrowing scenes that lead to her character Hannah Baker’s suicide.
5 . Music
Music is make-or-break for a show that wants its viewers to tap into their emotions, 13 Reasons Why managed to get their soundtrack right.
With songs like Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, Into the Black by Chromatics, Fascination Street by The Cure, The Night We Met by Lord Huron, and A 1000 Times by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, it is pretty impossible not to feel moved by the show’s music.
6 . Slow pacing
If you have read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher you would be aware that the original story takes place in the span of one night. In what is an unusual turn of events for an adaptation, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why gives the story more room, rather than less, to grow.
7 . You won’t loose track of the past and present
Okay, this point leans slightly more towards criticism, but I feel it’s worth a note.
In 13 Reasons Why Clay is given a gaping cut on his forehead. This is a device used to ascertain whether a scene is a flashback or whether it is taking place in the present day. If Clay hasn’t got a scar the audience know the scene is a flashback.
While this is a clever idea, which really did help avoid any mix-up, the execution was a little haphazard. Most of the time the scar didn’t look real, and its colour changed dramatically from one take-to-another.
8 . Don’t be an asshole
Instead of preaching that suicide is not the answer, 13 Reasons Why takes a more realistic approach. The show opts to share the message that being an asshole is not okay, to look out for warning signs of suicide, and if you can, do something to help.
9 . Stands up on its own
Don’t you hate it when you feel like you would understand a show’s plot a whole lot better had you read the book first?
13 Reason Why stands up so well on its own, you mightn’t even realise the show is adapted from a book.
10 . It only gets better… or worse
If you are on episode 1-4 and are unsure of the show, feel like it is just the ‘same old teen drama’ or that it is whiny and unrealistic, stick with it. Trust me. It gets horrifyingly real very fast.
11 . Not everyone life is like it seems
Growing up, everyone is told to be nice to one another because you do not know what that person’s life is really like. It is something that is featured in film and television all-the-time. While we have seen the ‘bully has a crappy home life’ storyline time and time again, there is no denying that 13 Reasons Why did a magnificent job at making us feel for those we thought were crappy people, and come to despise those we thought were good.
12 . There may be another season
The novel Thirteen Reasons Why is a stand-alone story, so it seems self-explanatory that the show would follow the same route.
However, the show ends on a cliff-hanger of sorts, and, without giving too much way, makes me wonder whether there will be sequel story that deviates from the original source material. While Hannah’s story has definitely been told, someone else might have a story that could potentially be explored in a season two.
13 . You won’t want to watch season one again
Most of the time re-watchability is a huge bonus for a show. However, if like me you don’t want to torture yourself by watching the first season again, this may be a sign that the show is doing everything right.
I mean, if you finish watching a show about suicide and immediately say “I want to watch that again”, it probably says something about how effective the show is at making you feel emotionally invested.