13 Reasons Why is a topical and important show for exploring the issues young people face, doing so in an honest and respectful way.
Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why will break your heart in all the best ways. It follows the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s suicide, with flashbacks providing insight into the unnoticed and unexpected reasons for her death. These reasons vary from objectification, slut shaming and rape culture, to fights with friends and the loneliness that ensues.
Audiences follow Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he receives a box of tapes made by Hannah (Katherine Langford), explaining what led her to end her life. Clay is a likeable, if slightly unpopular, young man who seemed to have a true affection for Hannah, which he was frightened of expressing for most of their friendship. As such, it seems a strange choice for Hannah to put him on a list with twelve others whose actions led to her death. Clay is arguably more affected than anyone else to be on the list, as he cared about her more than the others. This affection leads to a determined search for answers as he seeks the truth about her death, and seeks the justice that she was denied in life.
Based on the book by Jay Asher, written by Brian Yorkey and executive produced by Selena Gomez, this story tackles a problem faced by many young people in a refreshing and engaging way, drawing in audiences across age and gender with its universal issue. What is perhaps most striking about this show is how it tackles the difficult issue of suicide in an honest and realistic way, braving the topic with such candour that at times it can be truly difficult to watch. Yet despite its uncomfortable honesty it seems impossible to stop watching, as the suffering presented in this bizarre and twisted murder mystery-esque show will leave its audience obsessed.
13 Reasons Why presents people as they really are: imperfect, vulnerable, narcissistic and at times selfish. The show recognises that people are human and it can be easy to miss signs, get caught up in your own problems, or just be too tired to care at times. It portrays the students realistically, rather than as perfect ideals, and accepts them for their faults, avoiding preaching characters. Even our heroine is not perfect; she recognises her own failings, such as her strong reactions to certain situations and her mixed signals to the people who care for her. This ensures that Hannah is a character that audience members will care for and empathise with, making her story all the more sad and allowing her death to have an even greater impact on the audience. While all the actors give commendable performances in 13 Reasons Why, those of Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford are particularly compelling, portraying complex characters and grappling with difficult issues in a realistic and entertaining way.
13 Reasons Why tackles an issue that many people skim over, refusing to trivialise the struggles of young people through statements like “boys will be boys” or “kids will be cruel”, instead choosing to face it head on. This provides an uncomfortably honest yet undoubtedly important presentation of modern day high schools and the young people who attend them. Similarly it explores the important issue of the widening gap between parents and their children, as the characters we follow continually keep important secrets from their parents, act like different people when they are with peers, and overall appear like total strangers to the two people who should know them best. Many young people will recognise similar behaviour in their own lives, as the perfect children our parents may know may not always be the children we actually are. As such 13 Reasons Why finally seems to be a show about teenagers that is actually for teenagers as well, offering realistic insight and honest tragedy where others have offered clichés and half hearted attempts to relate.
A refreshing, engaging and largely honest depiction of the struggles that young people face, 13 Reasons Why is everything fans hoped for and more. Though not entirely loyal to the book, the show is still a topical and important watch for people of all ages – especially teenagers and parents. Highlighting the importance of awareness, conversations and connection, the issues faced in this show are relevant to all, and its overall message of tolerance is certainly something we could use more of in this day and age.
All 13 episodes of 13 Reasons Why are available now on Netflix. Read our flashback review of its source material here.