Last week,released the new drama 13 REASONS WHY (or TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY in the opening title sequence), based on the novel by Jay Asher. By now, many people have had time to check out at least a few of the thirteen episodes available, and reviews have been strong. But in an age of peak TV, you might be wondering just what this show is and why you should watch it over the plethora of other excellent choices. This article seeks to answer that question.
13 REASONS WHY begins in the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford, Daughter) suicide. Hannah is, er, was a high school girl, newish in town, average by most standards. Various members of the community are quite shaken by her demise, including her parents (Private Practice’s Kate Walsh and Smash’s Brian d’Arcy James). Why did she do it? Ah, well that is the mystery.
Our conduit into this question is Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette, Scandal, Saving Grace), a boy who had a crush on Hannah, and who is reeled not only be her taking her own life, but by what comes after it. A box is delivered to Clay’s doorstep containing seven cassette tapes, six recorded on both sides, detailing the thirteen sides of Hannah’s story. Hannah says at the start that everyone who receives these recordings figures into her decision to end herself, and Clay is freaked out as he listens to each one, getting through one tape side per episode.
There are a lot of unanswered questions as we start this. Why did Hannah kill herself? What is her true purpose in recording the audio? Why does Clay, who seems like a mild-mannered, ‘nice’ guy get the tapes? Who had them before him? Who will get them after him? What will Clay do about it?
The material is dark, of course. While the plot does revolve around high school kids and the characters feel authentic to the age that they are, there is weighty subject matter in the suicide and fall out from it. High school is a strange place, a setting where kids turn into adults, some quicker than others, and this is well illustrated by exploring very mature themes in this locale. 13 REASONS WHY deftly captures the duality and dynamic period that is both relatable and a bit foreign to anyone who might watch it.
Kicking the series up another notch is the non-linear way in which it unfolds. Jammed with flashbacks, Hannah is as much a character as anyone, second only to Clay in screen time, and while Clay is on a set journey, his thoughts don’t always stay on the path. This makes it more complicated to follow, although that is helped along by a visible facial injury early in episode one. It still feels very natural, though, mimicking the process one’s mind might go through while facing the complex reality.
Sealing this one for me are a pair of authentic, deep performances by Minnette and Langford. Given that they are the central characters, they are the ones most responsible for keeping 13 REASONS WHY from feeling like a trite young adult novel, not an easy feat. Yet, the do it almost effortlessly, impressing viewers for their acting ability; they are talented for any age.
All of these elements combined are why I have no reservations about recommending 13 REASONS WHY. It’s a well-told, well-executed production about important matters. It avoids the traps many series or films in this movie fall into, and while not totally unique, this is certainly among the best examples on the subject. Although twice the age of the lead, I found it very compelling and easy to feel for Clay, and Hannah has piqued my curiosity, especially in the elaborate way she set up her project with (I assume purposely) outdated technology. I look forward to seeing this through.
13 REASONS WHY is available now on Netflix.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.