Netflix is a glimpse into the future of television. What started as a simple way to rent movies online has turned into one of the most successful companies in the world and is responsible for bringing us some of television’s most gripping series in the last decade.
Continuing its string of success, Netflix’s latest drama series “13 Reasons Why” is a gripping — if not a tad too long — drama series that sheds some much needed light on the subject of suicide and what we can do to prevent it from happening to someone that we love.
Told in 14 hour-long segments, “13 Reasons Why” is a drama about a high school sophomore named Clay Jensen (Dylan Minette giving the best performance of his career to date) who wakes up one day to discover that his friend Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) has killed herself. With no note left behind, Clay is left to wonder what brought Hannah to do what she did until one day, he receives his answer in the mail. Delivered at his front door is a package from Hannah which contains 13 individual tapes in which she explains all the reasons why she decided to take her own life. As Clay listens to each tape, he gets closer and closer to getting his answer and he quickly realizes that everything isn’t all it seems to be, and someone he goes to school with is hiding a dark secret that poses as a threat to everyone around him.
I want to applaud “13 Reasons Why” for tackling such a heavy subject that can be hard to talk about. What could have easily been just another teenage drama filled with exaggerated drama is instead a raw, honest, realistic portrayal of issues that a lot of teenagers today, especially women, are dealing with and who are desperately searching for hope.
As many doors as this show opens, it’s such a shame that its flaws are too big ignore. For starters, this show is about two episodes too long. As engaging as the story was, I definitely began to feel the story drag on by the time I hit episode eight and couldn’t believe I still had five more episodes to go. There were definitely a few plot lines that could have been removed to make the story tighter and the script(s) are flooded with one too many characters all fighting for attention. The overcrowding of characters and drawn out storyline really make you have to work for the ending and as an avid binger, I really had to take a couple of breaks to make it through.
The biggest problem this show suffers with is one that is slightly hard to write because it has potential to make me sound like someone without a heart. I’m going to do my best to really watch how I word this. The character of Hannah, the girl who commits suicide, is honestly one that is hard to feel sorry for. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely a few key moments in her life that absolutely break your heart. There are things she experiences that no person should ever go through and I did feel extremely sorry for her. Aside from maybe three events, the other nine of reasons for killing herself are extremely petty and make her out to be someone who looks as if she was just looking for attention. She comes off as extremely selfish and although suicide is never justifiable, I really had a hard time with her reasons behind it. I won’t go into too much detail, but at one point we learn she names Clay as one of her reasons. This causes him to spin into a downward spiral and in return, I found myself feeling more sorry for him than I did her. It’s unfair the pain she puts him through and even more unfair for the pain that she puts her parents through. I had a really difficult time listening to Clay blame himself when in reality he didn’t do anything wrong. With the one character who is supposed to garner sympathy from us, I couldn’t bring myself to really have any for her overall and felt like she handled every single “reason” completely the wrong way (minus two or three).
I’m not heartless though. As I mentioned, Hannah definitely experiences some moments that are hard to watch and it’s because of how hard it is to watch that make this show so impactful. To go into detail about them would be to spoil the story so I won’t say anything except other than it’s an extremely graphic yet honest portrayal that really shows how terrible certain things can be. As far as the suicide scene though, I can tell you it’s probably one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever had to sit through. From the moment she begins her suicide to the moment her parents find her, I found myself cringing which is something I don’t do easily in a film. It’s extremely well-shot and acted and portrayed in such a realistic way that it really pulls the emotions right out of you.
If you remember my review of “Don’t Breath,” I mentioned how I felt like Minnette was going to be one of the most talented rising young actors in Hollywood and this series proves me right. As Clay, Minnette gives an emotionally powerful performance that you never once feel like you’re watching someone act. Aside from “Don’t Breath,” his entire career has been family-friendly films so it’s really nice to see him step into such an adult role. At such a young age, it’s amazing how much talent he has and I can only imagine just how much better he’ll be as he gets older. This is going to be his big break and you can expect to start seeing him in more of your movies as the years go on.
Moving past Minette, the supporting cast all does just as well. As Hannah’s mom, the always amazing Kate Walsh(!!!) turns in what is probably her best work since she left “Grey’s Anatomy” at the end of its third season. I’m sure it isn’t easy playing a role such as this, but she does it with such grace and never once does the feeling of over-acting ever come to mind. In fact, the strongest moment in the entire series is when she discovers her daughter’s dead body and the screams she delivers will haunt you long after it’s over.
The real stand out though, which completely caught me off guard, is the performance given by Brandon Flynn as the shows bad boy Jesse. Jesse is a character we’re meant to hate, and trust me there are a number of times where he’ll get your blood boiling. No matter how bad he gets though, you’ll never fully hate him because Flynn plays him with so much vulnerability and emotion that you can’t help but take pity on him. There’s a reason he’s the way that he is and as the series progresses we learn more and more about his past that by the end, we come to understand the reasons behind his actions. It’s amazing to me that “13 Reasons Why” is only his second acting credit and I really hope we start to see more of him because he’s gives one of the finest performances I’ve seen so far this year.
“13 Reasons Why” has been met with criticism that it almost glorifies the act of suicide rather than offer ways to prevent it. To a point, I can see where those comments are coming from but overall, I truly believe the message of this was always about how devastating suicide can be and how we really need to watch for any type of sign that someone we know might hurt themselves. I honestly feel like they got their point across and I never once felt like it was promoting suicide in any way. Over the past years suicide is something that has been brought out in the news more than ever so this is definitely something that needed to be made and brought out into public, especially on a forum such as Netflix.
The bottom line: “13 Reasons Why” is a well written, brilliantly acted television series that will designate with this generation’s youth in a way that film hasn’t done in a long time.
*’13 Reasons Why’ is now available in its entirety on Netflix.