There’s no simple explanation to the rollercoaster of emotions felt after finishing “13 Reasons Why.” Don’t adjust whatever screen or medium you’re reading this on. There’s no one word to tell you why these feelings are swirling. There are no return engagements, no encore and absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. Because you’re about to read the story of Hannah Baker.
Adapted from Jay Asher’s New York Time’s best-seller “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix’s 13-episode series of the same name follows high school junior Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) who’s welcomed home one afternoon by a mysterious package on his doorstep. Uncovering 13 tapes numbered with electric blue nail polish inside, Jensen pops tape one into his dad’s boombox and to his surprise, hears his former co-worker and crush Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) calm voice through the speakers. Two weeks prior, Baker committed suicide. And the tapes? 13 different accounts of 13 different peers who contributed to her decision.
Other than dragging your feelings through the mud, this “passion project,” as executive producer Selena Gomez refers to it, takes it’s viewers back to the four years we try so hard to tuck in the back of our minds: high school. It reminds us of the good parts: basketball games, house parties, homecoming; they’re nostalgic. It reminds us of the annoying parts: cliques, gossip, hormones; they’re irritating. The scary parts: first loves and college prep; they’re nerve-wracking. But it also focuses on the parts you only heard of when the extreme occurred. And it did. Bullying, sexual assault, depression, lies and deceit guide us in and out of each episode exploring the real and unpredictable consequences of constant, berating hate.
Baker’s false “slut” reputation rose after her then crush Justin, played by Brandon Flynn, took and shared an angled photo without Hannah’s permission and tagged a sultry backstory to it. The school took it and ran, beginning a chain reaction of uncomfortable, traumatic events. Langford and Flynn displayed the honeymoon-only stage high school relationship with quickness, like the duration of those romances, and ease. Their chemistry made none of their conversations, nervous glances, and constantly changing moods feel forced, unlike other cast members. The overwhelming teen angst is kept to a minimum during the series, cleverly dropped in sideline conversations and explosive reactions. Safe to say, it’s no “Secret Life of the American Teenager.”
The deeper into the tapes, the more confusing it is to understand what is reality and what are flashbacks. Because Hannah’s story is told as Clay listens to it, he often snaps out of his listening modes, which are a slightly sepiad over to hint the viewer, and back to present day to askquestions from guiding consultant Tony Padilla (Christian Navarro). It’s manageable during the first half of the series, but requires more attention after that.
The double tasking from familiar faces strongly channel emotionally vacant characters like Hannah’s mother, played by Kate Walsh, famously known for her role as Dr. Addison Montgomery on “Grey’s Anatomy,” whose expected to keep her grieving within her home as students and parents fail to keep Hannah and teenage mental health in conversation despite the administration’s efforts.
Alisha Bo, portraying Jessica Davis, begins as a bubbly cheerleader enjoying people watching and becoming Hannah’s best friend, flips, for good reason, into the girl your mom warned you about.
The binge-worthy series overall reiterates the importance of being able to be comfortable with asking for help when in need, but more importantly treating others as you’d expect to. Just because something is uncomfortable to talk about doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed. It’s more of a reason to, a reason executive producer Brian Yorkey deemed the series “a steady diet of truth.”
If you are thinking about self harm, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Suicide Crisis Hotline at 1-800-784-2433. Both are available 24 hours everyday. To discuss sexual assault, you can contact local lifeline VERITY at (707) 545-7273 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.