Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
The smallest of spoilers ahead…
The last few years have been a staple for adapting young adult novels to film and television. It started with Harry Potter and moved on to The Hunger Games, The 100, Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries, among countless others. But, there has never been an adaptation quite like this one. One that felt so real, so emotional, and so brutal. This is one of those instances where the adaptation was better than the source material. 13 Reasons Why keeps the high-concept structure and thrilling pace of the novel that came before it and improves upon it in every way. It’s dark, it’s elegant, it’s painful and it’s one of Netflix’s best original shows in years.
13 Reasons Why tells the story of the life of Hannah Baker. More specifically, why her life ended and the fallout from the tragedy. The show follows Clay Jensen, who is still recovering from Hannah’s suicide, receiving a package. Inside the package are thirteen tapes detailing the reasons behind why Hannah decided to take her own life. Each reason falls on a student who had done wrong to Hannah in the past and Clay discovers that he is one of them.
I need to make it clear again that this show is unlike anything I have viewed before. This is a show that I originally wasn’t interested in watching. I watched because I was trying to convince my sister to watch The 100 and the only way to do that was for me to start watching this. Thank god I did. 13 Reasons Why is one of the best Netflix dramas ever. Where the show succeeds the most (aside from its message), is keeping the novels tension and eerie feeling as it expands on its characters. The show runs like an old chain-mail: the series of tapes is passed on from person to person so they know, vividly, what they did. The show develops characters that were glossed over in the novel and that’s a good thing. Characters like Alex (Miles Heizer) becomes a music geek damaged by the pain he has caused while Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) keeps secrets that lead her down a dark path.
On the performance side, the show is spectacular. Each actor gets their chance to shine and is not wasted in any scene. Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen and Kathrine Langford as Hannah Baker are the clear show-stealers here. Minnette especially conveys the pain and the struggle Clay is feeling inside of him so well. You can see how broken he is despite being the one who probably had the smallest impact on Hannah’s eventual demise. Langford shines as the beaten and damaged Hannah Baker. Throughout the series she portrays an immense amount of emotion to the point where you really start to connect with the character. She gives a breakout performance that will be remembered for her character’s brutal honesty and directness.
The show is unquestionably genuine and in many ways, creatively effective. 13 Reasons Why takes extremely common tropes of television and uses them to their full potential such as the John Hughes-esque high school drama, the famous love triangle (with an exciting twist) and the obvious coming-of-age tale that, while seen many times before, feels fresh and unique in this drama. These strategies are what pull viewers into this gripping narrative and keeps them engaged until the very last sequence.
For a show that has many harsh and honest themes, 13 Reasons Why never lets up. The show dives deep into the various situations where school staff turn a blind eye to the very real problem that is bullying and the emphasis on jock-culture. It does a fantastic job at presenting the social pressures of teenage years without becoming campy or annoying. Bullying is real. And 13 Reasons Why shows the worst kind of consequences that could stem from it. It cultivates despair, suicide and sexual assault through a diverse set of characters that will never be forgotten.
I should also mention that the show has an incredible soundtrack. Seriously, it’s Stranger Things level of awesome. Not only can you jam out to the music as the series progresses, but the songs are specifically chosen to depict the emotion in the scenes. Songs like “Love will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division play in the first episode as Clay is left thinking about what he could have done to save Hannah. To top it all off, the music is a deliberate homage to John Hughes and that just puts a smile on my face.
Much like every other Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why is beautifully shot. The overhead shots of the small town these kids come from are breathtaking. Personal favourites include Clay on the mountain with Tony (Christian Navarro) and the night of the high school dance.
I also need to make it clear how much I hate Bryce Walker, played by Justin Pretice. This isn’t a knock on the acting because Pretice is stunning as the de facto villain of the show. The show wants viewers to hate him and you absolutely will by the end.
There are a couple of negatives that surround the show. The first being its emphasis on the adult characters in the show. I feel like, besides Kate Walsh as Oliva Baker (Hannah’s mom), the adults of the show weren’t given enough material to make me really care about them. It would have been nice to see the impact this had on other parents and how they are helping their children through this dark time. That being said, I also feel as if the show dragged at certain points. While this is a common negative among most Netflix series’, 13 Reasons Why really stretches its plot to the point where you feel like a couple of the episodes could have been merged into one.
13 Reasons Why is a show that really surprised me. Lately the YA adaptations have been quite awful (I’m looking at you The 5th Wave). This was completely different. The show has its couple of low points but neither hinder it in any way. The harshness and emotional weight that 13 Reasons Why presents on screen will appeal to almost anyone, regardless of what genre you are interested in. It includes defined characters, charismatic performances, difficult and relevant themes and absolutely exceeds the novel it is based on. It asks real questions and can definitely be considered one the most noteworthy projects, not only produced by Netflix, but produced in general.
Nick’s Rating – 8.7/10
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13 Reasons Why debuted on Netflix on March 31st, 2017