'13 Reasons Why' is provocative, relevant series

New Netflix drama expands on bestselling novel


"13 Reasons Why" tackles serious issues in a mature and very watchable way.

Netflix released its new drama “13 Reasons Why” March 31, offering a raw, addicting view of the darker aspects of high school life. Based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel, the show addresses and expands on the same bleak themes, with a cast of characters even more complicated and enigmatic than their written counterparts.

The story centers on a high school reeling from the suicide of student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). However, not everyone is grieving for the same reasons. There are rumors circulating about what caused Baker to end her life so abruptly, and people are either searching for the root of the mystery or attempting to conceal the truth.

Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) — a shy outsider who harbored a crush on Baker for years — arrives home one afternoon a few weeks after the tragedy to find a package containing seven meticulously labeled cassette tapes on his doorstep. After hearing Baker’s own voice ringing through his headphones, Jensen realizes he has been listed as one of the 13 reasons Hannah decided to end her life, and these tapes explain the tragedy.

The instructions are clear — listen to both sides of every tape, and when finished, pass them onto the next person on the list. Failure to comply will result in the public release of a second set of these tapes, bringing the characters’ damning secrets to light.

Despite the highly dramatic and disturbing content, the series has a genuine feel. The characters talk like teens, with realistic dialogue highlighting their insecurities, immaturity and self-centeredness interspersed with outbursts of casual profanity. The daily trials of high school are given weight, illustrated in the way a rumor can spread like wildfire regardless of its accuracy, or how one insensitive comment can have a lasting impact.

The characters are also refreshingly multi-faceted and more developed than they appear in the original book. The 13 hour-long episodes are prone to lagging as Jensen listens to the tapes at an agonizingly slow pace, but the episode length allows for new content to further flesh out the characters and the details of their lives. They are intriguingly elusive and yet entirely recognizable, simultaneously breaking stereotypes and evoking a sense of familiarity.

“13 Reasons Why” notably confronts several taboo issues — suicide, depression and sexual assault — with a clarity and frankness not usually seen in network dramas. Its mature rating and status as a Netflix original series gives it freedom to delve into these extremely sensitive yet relevant themes through shockingly graphic depictions — several of the episodes even come with viewer discretion warnings.

These terrifying portrayals are difficult to witness, but their profound effect forces the viewer to contemplate the significance of issues which are so frequently pushed aside. “13 Reasons Why” does not hesitate to tackle the heavy subject matter with bold candor, and this approach sets it apart from other programs of its genre.

“13 Reasons Why” is admittedly hard to watch at times. The sheer cruelty, violence and grief are brutally and heartbreakingly represented, and though it was created to be standard Netflix fare — a binge-worthy weekend distraction — the subject matter is a lot to handle. However, the series unflinchingly sheds light on pertinent themes, and the sharply realistic characters and thought-provoking topics will remain in the audience’s minds long after the final episode ends.

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