13 Reasons Why, Netflix, 2017

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13 Reasons why is the currently most talked about series on TV.  It is a teenage morality tale about a 17 year old girl who has committed suicide in the weeks before the series begins. She has left behind a suicide note, in the form of 13, C60  audio cassettes, each one naming a different person as having a hand in causing her to take her own life. Each cassette states what this person did to affect her and she has arranged that the whole series of tapes is delivered to each of the thirteen people in turn.

So far, so dark – a horrible premise of a teenager’s suicide and the ultimate naming, blaming and shaming fantasy. This could have been so awful that I almost gave up watching after each of the first three episodes.

However, Hannah, the girl who killed herself, is a likeable, witty, attractive personality and we want to find out what drove her to despair. She mostly avoids playing the blame game and the series is really a universal tale about the complications of dealing with serious and difficult problems, often for the first time, as a teenager negotiates the change from child to adult.

The characters are well written and well rounded. The story is told half in the current timeline and half in flashback, this is clever, as we can see the change that Hannah’s death has brought to each person. There are stereotypes, in that they fit into their groups at the school but each individual is given a three dimensional personality and the only caricature is the one who does not get to listen to the tapes.

The acting is great, everyone talks about how good the two leads are – they are excellent.  Christian Navarro is also very good as Tony, who serves as a kind of nuanced narrator. Kate Walsh is brilliant, playing two parts really, as Hannah’s mother, before and after the suicide.

I liked the fact that the show concentrates just as much on the devastation left behind as the reasons for the death. It is a thin line between negating the reasons for Hannah’s suicide and justifying them, the show manages to realistically state the reasons for her actions but never says that she was right to do so. There is talk of a second series because of the success of season one, and possibly because of the unresolved nature of some of the issues. I believe that the show had to leave these issues open because to close them would have implied that her killing herself would have achieved a closure that might not  have been attained had she lived.

I enjoyed this series very much but I hope they choose not to film a season two, either to resolve these issues or to follow the lives of some of the other characters, 13 Reasons Why, is all about Hannah, let’s keep it about her.

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20 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why, Netflix, 2017

  1. Tried to watch this a couple of times, and haven’t been able to stay on it at all. I might give it a try without my better half (he sees teenagers and is instantly disinterested). Thanks for the review.

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  2. I enjoyed your review which has left me in a state of introspective angst. I saw the first episode and told my daughter who loves the whole series that I thought it was the Glee of suicide. The plasticity of the dearly departed is so high-gloss polished and so removed from the realm of life-ending desparation that I’m sure she was mistakenly miscast for a high school musical coming of age or something. I’m waiting for the reports of copycat real-life productions based on poor souls who think that its really cool to do a 14 Reasons exit. Sorry, I just dont get glamour suicides.

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    • I like the phrase “Glee of Suicide”. I almost did not continue after each of the first two episodes because I thought that it did glamorise suicide, but by the end I thought that it made one aware of the hurt it caused to those left behind. Ultimately, I felt that the show was more about the effects of bullying and institutional sexism than suicide. I’m not sure that anyone who watched it all would think that Hannah took the best way out. However, who am I to second guess what is going on in some poor kids head when they are desperate enough to contemplate that. You are right about the high gloss and polish, although I saw it as a teenage morality tale and I hope it does more good than harm. I guess no TV series is going to talk a teenager out of suicide, but at least it might make some of them realise that other people are just as sensitive as they are.

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      • Down here in Aussie land we are told that suicide is one of the biggest killers of young people between 15-24 which is an extraordinary statistic. Anything which sheds light on this hitherto silent reality is worthy and film is the natural medium to raise awareness. So while the film critic in me can see production issues and the parent in me sees the possibility of copycats, I would never criticise the intrinsic value of 13 Reasons. Anyway, it is made to reach the young and is clearly successful in doing so.

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