13 Reasons Why is the new Netflix series that has everyone talking, and no, it isn’t a superhero show this time. It’s based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher that hit #1 on New York Times’ Best Selling list in 2011. The story follows high schooler Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette, Don’t Breathe, Lost, Prisoners), when he comes home one day to a package from his classmate, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who recently committed suicide. The package contains thirteen cassette tapes, recorded by Hannah herself, detailing the thirteen reasons that led her to end her life.
Each tape is in regards to a particular person and how they fit into her suicide. Each classmate before Clay has listened to all 13 tapes already and now it’s his turn. There are only two rules: 1. you listen, and 2. you pass the tapes along. It’s a daunting story of tragedy, love, abuse, and teenage troubles.
The novel itself has led to numerous youths stating it saved their life and helped them through trying times. It’s refreshing, sincere and honest. And now I’m going to give you a run-down of exactly why you should be bingeing the Netflix adaption 13 Reasons Why.
CASSETTE 1: SIDE A – Netflix has been providing numerous shows lately and almost all of them have been high-quality television. This show has the cinematic look of a movie with the setup of a short-season television show.
CASSETTE 1: SIDE B – Finding a movie with a great soundtrack is pretty common, but finding a TV show with killer music value? Now that’s rare. Once you get done bingeing the show, you’re going to be bingeing the soundtrack and enjoying the nostalgia of some of those tracks.
CASSETTE 2: SIDE A – Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker. She perfectly portrays everything the book and show needs her to. Her talents are vehemently displayed in every segment so well that you would never guess she’s only done a couple of short films beyond this show. She’s truly an up-and-coming actress you will want to follow. How about that American accent? She has it perfected.
CASSETTE 2: SIDE B – Adaptations are usually push-and-pull for book readers. Constant criticisms about how “this shouldn’t have changed” and “that should be different”. The way Netflix adapted this novel is actually highly impressive. It’s so uncommon to find an adaptation that works better than it even did before. The improvements, changes, and additions to the show make it all the more immersive and unnerving. It adds to the quality, not just the quantity. I won’t specify too much on the differences – even though there are quite a few – but one thing that is quite noticeable is Clay doesn’t listen to all the tapes in one night as he did in the book; he has his reasons and they become clearer as the episodes go on. Most of the adjustments are logical and help boost the show where it needs to be to maintain the viewer’s attention.
CASSETTE 3: SIDE A – Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) as Mrs. Baker is exactly how a grieving mother would react. She’s relentless in looking for answers, she’s sorrowful, she’s angry, and she misses her little girl. She gives us a deeper look at how Hannah’s parents continued their lives without her, which was never distinguished in the book. Walsh had the perfect depiction of this character using such raw emotion and without her, 13 Reasons Why would truly be missing something.
CASSETTE 3: SIDE B – Through this show, the producers and crew are giving insight into the signs of someone who is suicidal and resources for suicide prevention. They destroy the barriers that hold suicide in what feels like 4 steel walls where no one is supposed to talk about it. The stigma surrounding suicide is tarnished. They subtly help you realize that it can happen to anyone at any time and that even just one person reaching out can make a difference in someone’s life. They reiterate that we should all be more kind and gentle with others. That is something I, personally, can get behind.
CASSETTE 4: SIDE A – Not only do we have a show from Netflix that breaks stigma surrounding suicide and mental health, but we have a show that isn’t afraid to include diverse characters while normalizing them. You aren’t slapped in the face with interracial couples, LGBT couples, or any of those “traditional differences” and it helps youth relate. They are just “there” and the rest of our characters standardize this – it isn’t made out to be an issue. The diversity is great and it’s not even diversity for the sake of being diverse.
CASSETTE 4: SIDE B – Another outstanding casting: Christian Navarro as Tony. His character is difficult to explain without giving details away, but let’s just say that he’s the guider for Clay’s journey listening to the tapes. He’s sort of mysterious through most of the show, but he’s an excellent addition. He is the all-wise one who adds a feeling of depth and balance to the show. He seems to know everyone even though he keeps to himself and certainly doesn’t strike me as a high school student.
CASSETTE 5: SIDE A – Yet another wonderful casting choice: Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen. This is one of the best casting choices on the show, not only because Dylan is great and handles his role perfectly, but because he portrays Clay how the book does. Granted, there are variances to Clay’s character in the show from the book, but he manages to captivate the role of an introverted, shy, somewhat ditzy kind of guy wonderfully. I was hooked with him leading the show from episode one and I can’t imagine another actor taking on this role now that I’ve seen Minnette in it.
CASSETTE 5: SIDE B – 13 Reasons Why is absolutely binge-worthy, especially since it’s only 13 hours worth of television. This is one you won’t be able to stop thinking about when you’re taking a break to eat lunch or grabbing a shower. Take one day to yourself, find some tissue, and have a seat. You won’t be able to take your time with this series.
CASSETTE 6: SIDE A – Any Marshmallows out there? There are some serious Veronica Mars vibes in this show, especially in the second half of the season. If you were a fan of the first season of Veronica Mars, you will LOVE 13 Reasons Why. If I’m right, you owe me a dollar.
CASSETTE 6: SIDE B – The ending. DON’T WORRY – I won’t spoil it for you. I want you to enjoy that journey all on your own. However, I want you to understand how well they wrapped it up. We get enough questions answered that if it doesn’t get a second season, we won’t be left on edge. If we’re lucky enough to get another season (with as much talk and stream-time as it’s getting, I’d be more surprised if we didn’t get one more), we will have plenty of story to continue with.
CASSETTE 7: SIDE A – I’ve already gone through how important and crucial it is to talk about the issues of suicide, depression, and abuse and that we need to break the stigma surrounding those topics. Yet there is something else that Selena Gomez, Brian Yorkey, and others were able to do within 13 episodes. They were able to bring to life the serious nature of this situations and subtly walk you through the warning signs. The second half of the season is much more tension-building and frankly, some parts are hard to sit through. When the graphic scenes appeared, they didn’t romanticize them. They didn’t make it look graphic for shock value, they showed you just enough to understand how detrimental abuse and bullying can be. There are advisements at the beginning of the episodes to forewarn you on the graphic nature, please take them seriously. They are not comfortable by any means, nor are they intended to be. These situations happen all of the time, and those who experience abuse and bullying are by no means comfortable either.
CASSETTE 7: SIDE B – Overall, you’re in for a journey that takes you back to your childhood, or if you’re a teenager right now, helps you relate to what you’re currently experiencing. I’m still struggling to find something wrong with the show now that I’ve finished it. I’m also having a hard time not going back and watching it a second time through.
13 Reasons Why is more than standard entertainment. This is the rare TV series that can not only alter perceptions, it could change someone’s life.
Note: Please do watch the follow up episode, “Behind the Reasons”. The producers and director are so invested in suicide prevention that it’s hard not to root for this show, even if it’s not your cup of tea. Also, take a listen to our in-depth discussion on the series HERE.