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’13 Reasons Why’ Review: Netflix Brings a Brutally Adult Edge to A Tale of Teen Suicide 

You won't want to stop watching this show. But at times, you'll wish you could look away. 

13 REASONS WHY

Beth Dubber/Netflix

“Right. Hannah Baker. Sucks what happened to her.” This is how one character refers to the seismic event around which “13 Reasons Why,” now available on Netflix, revolves — but is that an accurate statement? Is Hannah Baker’s fate something that happened to her? Something she put into motion herself? Or something that was done to her?

These are the questions explored by the series, based on the novel by Jay Asher, which takes on the topic of teen suicide in a fashion so blunt that it proves legitimately difficult to watch at times.

READ MORE: 7 New Netflix Shows to Binge Watch in March 2017, and The Best Episodes of Each

In fact, in over four years of covering Netflix original programming, I have seen some truly horrific things, thanks to the platform’s commitment to giving its creators free reign over their content. Brutal murders, cruel rapes, nudity and violence and profanity and tragedy on a scale beyond comprehension. Netflix shows can sometimes be very tough viewing, but this is the first time I have ever seen anything like this appear before an episode of their original series.

13 Reasons Why Warning

What’s important is that holy smokes, this is earned. Executive produced and directed in part by Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), the series begins in the immediate aftermath of Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) suicide, as her parents and classmates reel from the shock of her unexpected death. Clay (Dylan Minnette), whose connection to Hannah proves to be much deeper than expected, is especially reeling — until, that is, he receives a shoebox containing audio tapes, recorded by Hannah before her death, in which she promises to explain exactly why she did what she did.

The premise launches what amounts to an unconventional murder mystery, and there’s something legitimately devious about how the show pulls this off, thanks to the slow way in which it unveils the tragedy at the core of its story — there is also something fundamentally weird about a show that tricks you into falling in love with a dead girl. But as a character, Hannah’s flaws and strengths come together beautifully on screen, a credit to the sort of on-screen alchemy of writing, directing and performance which hooks us as audiences, deeply invests us in the fictional personas we see on screen.

When it comes to a suburban teen’s suicide, the reality is that larger-scale tragedies happen every day around the world. But where “13 Reasons Why” excels is the nuance and attention to detail it brings to this one specific death, making it so deeply personal that it feels like the loss of a dear friend.

13 REASONS WHY

Langford’s performance is essential here, an aching wound of ever-building sadness, believable and raw even when faced with some moments which verge on teen cliche. It’s an incredible tightrope she’s walking, but the relative newcomer nails it. And amongst the living, Minnette proves to be a compelling lead. While the acting amongst the other teens isn’t across the board solid, there’s such a great range of them — a diverse group of sexualities, races and types beyond The CW’s wildest dreams.

Directors include McCarthy, Gregg Araki, Jessica Yu and Carl Franklin, who create almost a noir-ish feel amidst the streetlight soaked streets of this small town. When it comes to the adult actors, Derek Luke doesn’t quite live up to what his role as a morally ambiguous school counselor entails, and many of the other parents and teachers fail to make much of an impression. But oh lord, Kate Walsh. Brian D’Arcy James, as Hannah’s father, brings the expected amount of emotional devastation to the screen, but as Hannah’s mother, Walsh is simply heartbreaking. If her reps aren’t planning an Emmys push for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, they are asleep at the wheel.

13 REASONS WHY

And yes, that’s Drama Series, not Limited Series. The most shocking thing about “13 Reasons Why” is that after hearing the premise, you might assume that the plan for the show would be a miniseries approach — after all, once we’ve heard Hannah’s tapes, how much story is there left to tell? But by the end of the season, it’s clear that’s definitely not the case. And this is good news, given that creator Brian Yorkey did such strong work building out the world and its characters. (It helps that there are a couple of important twists in the final few episodes that would clearly fuel the plot of a Season 2, should Netflix greenlight it.)

Let’s be clear — I’d watch it. “13 Reasons Why’s” unflinching look at its narrative is enough to make you yearn for the innocent days of the MPAA rating for the 2002 film “Blue Crush”: “PG-13 for sexual content, teen partying, language and a fight.” (To be clear, “13 Reasons Why” would be rated a hard R on all of those matters and more.) But in its examination of the ways we hurt each other, deliberately or casually, knowingly or otherwise, the adult edges to this story ring with honesty and truth. Because sometimes, the only way to feel something is for it to hurt.

Grade: B+

“13 Reasons Why” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.

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Comments

Morgan

“13 reasons why” was masterful. From the direction, the story, to the acting. wow. well done. it was so real I think I got PTSD from watching it. seriously. I also fell in love with Hannah.

    E

    “I think I got PTSD from watching it” no you didn’t period.

      Phix

      You clearly must not have watched the show if you categorically deny the possibility of PTSD. I’m a man who can remember how many times I’ve cried since I was 14 on one hand and I cried like a child at this show multiple times. I finished watching episode 13 last night and I’m still reeling from the story, the raw emotions created were incredibly unsettling. This show was extremely powerful, watching some of the things that happened in the show.. was just not right.

      PTSD is not a choice and can be caused by ANY traumatizing event, just because you don’t believe it can happen from a TV show, because that’s not what you believe, doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I have/had PTSD from a car crash where I couldn’t sleep for months after, so while people’s make jests about PTSD, I still take the statement semi-seriously because you don’t know if it’s true or not. Internet anonymity doesn’t mean you have a license to be a dick and tell someone you don’t personally know that they’re wrong.

matt

Sure, you know how “edges” “ring” with “honesty.”

L-

Honestly this show has made me so sad. The people who bullied, abused and hurt me- classmates, my brother, ex friends are watching it but hey, they all seem to tweet and instagram about it without even stopping to think about those moments where they have behaved like some of the characters of this show. People really need to change, this tv programme has become viral and many persons empathise with Rachel because they watch it on the tv but they are unable to empathise in real life.
I am unhappy about it and watching this happen enfuriates me- this is just too much.

m.

this was my high school life. actually, mine might have been a bit worse, what with the forced abortion, the phsyical abuse from my father, the emotional abuse from my alcoholic mother…it goes on, to be honest. i made a few half-assed attempts at suicide which were clearly cries for help, and one serious attempt which was a result of the cries for help going unheard. my mother found me, forced me to throw up the 54 sleeping pills. i lived. i went on. i existed. but it’s 25 years later. i’m a mother of 3. they have been my sole reason for continuing to exist for 19 years, and when my youngest turns 18, graduates high school, and i feel as though he can take care of himself, i will go away quietly and finally kill myself like i’ve wanted to since i was 13 years old.

if you don’t help people when you have the chance, when it’s important, then it doesn’t really matter what happens next. the pain never goes away. you just compartmentalize it and wait for the right time. you spend your life hearing how selfish it is to kill yourself, so you put it off.

but. i feel pretty selfless in having forced myself to live every single day since then, because i’ve done it for other people who i don’t want to hurt.

none of them have thought about what not letting me die is doing to me. THAT’S selfish.

anyway.

this show hit home.

    J.

    M., your life sounds incredibly selfless. You have given life to 3 people and protected them for 19 years… I know I don’t know you and don’t know anything about your life, but I can only imagine how much they love you and how much you mean to them. My mother deals with constant depression, and I never regret for a day that she shared that with me and I have been able to really know all of her and love her, fully, for herself. If you do not share yourself with your children they will never be able to fully love you, and that is all a child could ever want. If you let them in, maybe it will give you a reason to live, and a way to see how many people your life touches. I am praying for you to find happiness.

N.

M–I’m very sorry that you’ve experienced these traumas and that you’re feeling this way, and I, too, am praying for you to discover a reason to live–even beyond your children. I myself am a survivor of rape, and I’ve felt like Hannah did, but I’ve made it to the other side and found happiness. I hope you do, too.

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