It’s fairly early in the year, but I think I’ve already found a show that will end up making my top shows when December comes. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original show created by Brian Yorkey and starring Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette, and it’s a doozy that’s definitely not for everyone. There is a controversy around this show that I will discuss after my general evaluation in an afterword, but I really don’t want that to get in the way of the merits of the show itself. This is the story about teen suicide and bullying. It’s the story of a high school girl who, through a number of circumstances, decides to commit suicide. The twist to this comes when it’s revealed that she has recorded tapes naming twelve people responsible for her decision and sends them around through a mutual friend to these people, forcing them to hear her story.
This show is well crafted. Each episode is separated by tape, and they tell the story more of what happened in the past to create this situation and how it’s now affecting the future. I love framing the story this way, making each episode a little mystery to be unravelled and felt within both the past and the present. There were a few detracting episode slumps with this format. I believe one of the characters felt like the character’s part in the story wasn’t exactly worth an episode. But overall the show is compelling and gripping despite the couple of pacing issues that I could point to. I really love Netflix for these tight twelve or thirteen episode arcs. They’ve really hit on a length that I wish more television would move into.
To describe what I felt while watching this show in one word would be powerful. I think this show respects many of its serious topics and its portrayals of them, and there are definitely some scenes that are uncomfortable and painful or unsettling to watch, which I believe was the intention of the show. However, the most powerful part of it was its portrayal of everyday bullying, in a way that isn’t as hyperbolic as I think is common in high school shows. The show has an ability to make you remember every small shitty thing you’ve done to someone, all those little regrets, and just feel them. As a person that believes art (shows and movies included) should move you in a personal way this was a definite plus for me as a viewer.
This is a spoiler-free review so I don’t have much else to say other than that the cast is great all the way down to the side characters. The writing is great, and I think it’s an important show with a lot of great lessons and themes to give. I will stipulate before my grade that this is not a show for everyone. There are graphic scenes in it that lead me to say that the trigger warnings for this show are not to be trifled with, but if you can handle the images and serious content of the show, its great. I give this show a 9.3 out of 10.
Now, I gave this show a high review but I don’t want to be tone deaf to the controversy around it. I gave a warning that this show isn’t for everyone for a reason, even though it’s a great show. There are concerns from professionals about this show because portrayals of suicide in media raise the risk of copycat suicides. Also, experts warn that the graphic portrayal of suicide in the show itself can lead to glorification of suicide or normalizing it in our culture. Therefore, I just want to say that no one should watch this who is not prepared to handle it and no one who is at risk for being suicidal should be watching it. This is first and foremost a work of fiction and a piece of art, nothing more.
Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, and Christian Navarro: Stars