REVIEW: 13 REASONS WHY

MAIN CAST

Dylan Minnette (Don’t Breathe)
Katherine Langford (The Misguided)
Christian Navarro (Bushwick)
Alisha Boe (Paranormal Activity 4)
Brandon Flynn (BrainDead)
Justin Prentice (Izombie)
Miles Heizer (Rails & Ties)
Ross Butler (Riverdale)
Devin Druid (Louder Than Bombs)
Amy Hargreaves (Wonderstruck)
Derek Luke (Biker Boyz)
Kate Walsh (After The Sunset)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Brian d’Arcy James (Smash)
Steven Weber (Izombie)
Keiko Agena (Labor Pains)
Josh Hamilton (J. Edgar)
Tom Everett Scott (Scream: The Series)
Robert Gant (Supergirl)

High school is a crappy, messy experience for the vast majority of people. That fact has never really changed, even with all the talk of Millennials being more sensitive and open-minded than any generation that preceded them. If anything, high school bullying has only become a more serious problem in recent years with the advent of social media and smartphones. Kids have always had a knack for being horrible to one another, but give them the anonymity of the Internet and a screen to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions, and suddenly you have teenagers driven to suicide thanks to revenge porn or targeted online harassment. 13 Reasons Why is perfectly positioned to explore bullying and high school culture in the post-Facebook era. It’s an often depressing and even uncomfortable show to watch, but that only makes it all the more powerful.Based on the best-selling YA novel from Jay Asher and adapted for television by Brian Yorkey, 13 Reasons Why opens several weeks after the tragic suicide of high school junior Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Despite her death, Hannah remains a very active participant in the show’s narrative thanks to copious flashbacks and a narrative device involving a series of cassette tapes she recorded shortly before her suicide. Those tapes fall into the hands of Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), a socially awkward classmate still struggling to come to terms with Hannah’s death. Each of the series’ 13 episodes revolve around one of these tapes, with Hannah explaining in minute detail how her peers (including Clay himself) drove her to take her own life.It’s a pretty grim premise for a high school drama, even by the standards of death-obsessed YA stories like The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. And apart from the occasional friendly banter between Clay and Hannah or the recurring joke about Clay and his fellow students being utterly mystified by the concept of cassette tapes, there’s little room for humor here. That can make 13 Reasons Why a pretty emotionally draining experience, particularly towards the end as the pieces really start to fall into place. The final episode in particular features one of the most uncomfortable scenes on TV.Not really a show that encourages binge-watching, in other words. But 13 Reasons Why definitely succeeds in its goal of exploring how countless small and large acts of malice, as well as simple indifference or inattention, can fuel a terrible tragedy. Hannah herself references Chaos Theory in one episode, and it applies to this situation as well as it does an amusement park full of hungry dinosaurs. Hannah encounters just about every form of humiliation high school life can possibly throw at someone – from social isolation and petty gossip to sexual harassment and worse. The outcome is a foregone conclusion, so it’s really more a story about how and why so many of those close to Hannah failed to save her in time.Though a newcomer, Langford shines in the lead role. There’s a bright spark to Hannah that slowly fades over the course of the series as she becomes progressively more worn down by life’s disappointments. Langford embodies that optimism and that profound sadness well. Minnette’s Clay is, by design, a much more stoic and reserved character. In the present, Clay is practically a walking zombie stricken equal helpings of grief, confusion and fear about what he’ll learn when he eventually reaches his tape. Even in the past, Clay is someone who struggles to express his emotions and open up to those around him. Minnette does a fine job in what’s often a difficult role, though the show does rely a little too much on shots of Clay gazing wistfully into the distance as he reminisces about his interactions Hannah.Langford and Minnette are often at their best together, channeling just the right sort of warm but awkward chemistry you’d expect from two teens who can’t quite admit to their feelings for one another. Each new bit of progress in their relationship feels like a major victory, one rendered all the more poignant by the knowledge that their friendship/nascent romance is inherently doomed. There’s a nice sense of mystery and unease to their relationship as well. For a long time, it’s very unclear just how close the two characters were prior to Hannah’s death or what exactly Clay might have done to earn himself a spot among the dreaded thirteen .In general, 13 Reasons Why boasts a strong cast that tends to make the most of the material. Initially, Clay and Hannah’s classmates seem to fit into the usual high school stereotypes – your jocks, your cheerleaders, your preppy overachievers, your slackers, etc. But as each member of the thirteen is fleshed out in turn, they show a real depth and angst that reminds viewers that Hannah was hardly the only one who suffered from loneliness and a deep malaise. Standouts include Alisha Boe as psychologically troubled cheerleader Jessica Davis and Brandon Flynn as her equally tortured boyfriend, Justin Foley. The show places a greater emphasis on adult characters than the novel, with memorable, emotionally charged performances from Kate Walsh as Hannah’s grieving mother and Derek Luke as the school’s embattled counselor.13 Reasons Why is far from the most pleasant viewing experience Netflix has to offer, but it is a very powerful and hard-hitting series. The show explores the build-up to and aftermath of a teen’s tragic suicide with great care, painting a compelling portrait of one teen broken by life and another determined to find answers. The show easily ranks among the best high school dramas of the 21st Century.

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