We asked our awesome Smarty Movie Reviewer, Heather, to watch and review the hot new Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why.” Some of your tweens and teens might already be watching and talking about the show, a series based on the 2007 bestseller book by Jay Asher. The series illustrates a 17-year-old girl who commits suicide and leaves behind her 13 reasons why she went through with the act. Along with suicide, the show addresses underage drinking and sexual assault.
Every parent should watch this series if you have a tween or teen in your household so you can determine if your child can handle the content. Regardless of if you allow your child to watch it or not, you still should, so you can be involved in these tough conversations. From 7th grade and older, this series is a hot topic among teens and their peers are watching it. And trust us, they are definitely all talking about it.
If your child wants to watch it or is already watching it, here are some talking points put together by the SAVE and JED Foundations that we found helpful. Our friends over at Southeast Psych’s ShrinkTank also penned this great article on whether or not the show clearly depicts teen culture today and this article on the unintended consequences of warnings about 13 Reasons Why.
Enjoy the review and let us know your thoughts in the Comments below! ~ The CSP Team
The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has gotten a tremendous amount of press coverage lately. Some people feel that a show that depicts teen suicide should never air as it could encourage copycats to make the same terrible decision. Others feel that showing realistic teen angst and the consequences of not listening to warning signs can only help in preventing deadly outcomes. I highly doubt that my psych major in college grants me the wisdom to tell you whether or not to watch this show, but I did watch all thirteen episodes of this series so I can at least give you some insight as to what to expect if you do watch or share with you enough details so you don’t have to.
I usually enjoy a good mystery. Our family especially loves to play the game Clue—where you realize that Miss Scarlet killed someone in the library with a wrench or something like that. The fun part is that we don’t know who died and we really don’t care—we just want to unravel the mystery. In advertising 13 Reasons Why, Netflix highlights that it is based on the bestselling mystery novel by Jay Asher. Unfortunately for us, we know right from the beginning who is going to die and we spend thirteen hours getting to know Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) before watching it happen. Because of this, you will spend each hour feeling a little sick, anxious and very uncomfortable as the story progresses to the agonizing end.
Remember those ABC After-School specials? Add them all together and you have a framework for 13 Reasons Why. Pretty much every teenage taboo subject is discussed in these thirteen episodes. Rape, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, cutting, guns, drunk driving—it’s all in there. So is the bad language—do high school kids really swear that much and are they actually allowed to curse in front of their teachers? I guess that’s the least disturbing of the list of appalling things that go on in this high school.
I’m also not sure who the target audience is for this series. It is listed as TV-MA, so it is intended for a “mature” audience, but between the cartoonish opening credits and the beautiful young cast set in high school—I’m assuming teen girls? That’s a shame because I actually think teen boys could learn a few important lessons from the show. I also don’t think it is really geared towards parents as they play a less important role than you would expect throughout the series.
Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) discovers a mysterious box at his front door shortly after Hannah Baker’s suicide. The box contains a map and thirteen cassette tapes that Hannah recorded depicting the reasons why she has decided to kill herself. She has devised a plan where each person who has wronged her must hear the tapes and then pass them along to the next person in the chain of people who have hurt her—otherwise the tapes will be released to the public. Clay is baffled as to why he is on the tapes as he truly loved Hannah and never wanted to hurt her. We then watch Clay struggle as he slowly works his way through the tapes, reliving Hannah’s life and seeing how she was hurt and disappointed over and over.
Clay is the perfect lens through which to see Hannah’s story as he is a somewhat socially awkward yet truly decent guy who hasn’t fallen prey to all of the stupidity of popularity and peer pressure. He’s always been a bit of an outsider, so he really doesn’t understand Hannah’s intense desire to feel included. He’s also unable to fully articulate how he feels for Hannah, as he’s afraid of ruining their developing friendship as they spend time together working at the local movie theater. Listening to the tapes is harrowing for him as he tries to understand exactly what has happened in the past year.
Of course it all starts with a picture that goes viral. On a date with jock/bad boy Justin (Brandon Flynn), Hannah heads down a playground slide. Justin snaps a picture as she slides, and catches her innocently laying back as her skirt flies up. The pair then share a kiss, which happens to be Hannah’s first. The next day at school, Justin jokes with his friends that he got to “third base” with Hannah and shows the picture of her that looks very suggestive. Justin’s friend Bryce (Justin Prentice) then sends out the picture, which goes viral. Hannah is humiliated, and is instantly labeled as a slut. The reputation becomes even more damaging to Hannah after she is given the title of “Best Ass” in the class. She becomes objectified and a target of lust for the boys at school who think she should be thrilled at the title instead of embarrassed.
Things continue to worsen for Hannah as the real and perceived slights against her mount up. Everything really comes to a head when she attends Jessica’s party. All of the kids get drunk and Jessica (Alisha Boe) makes her way upstairs with boyfriend Justin (yes the same Justin). She passes out, and Justin leaves the room only to allow his best friend Bryce in to rape the mostly unconscious Jessica. Hannah witnesses the tragic event and is paralyzed with fear and unable to stop it. She never fully recovers from this night and things only worsen from this point on—and they really do get worse for this poor girl.
The series does a masterful job of showing the progression of Hannah’s decline through Clay as he reacts to each story she tells. The more Hannah suffers, the deeper Clay’s agony spreads at not being able to fully connect with her while she was still alive. The story moves from past to present seamlessly and teases just enough information each episode to compel you to find out more. Clay’s culpability in Hannah’s suicide is also a major plot point—why is he on the tapes when he only wanted to love Hannah? The acting is fantastic and the budding love story between Hannah and Clay really is quite beautiful to watch.
My main problem with the series is that I am in agreement that the series does seem to glamorize suicide. In a twisted and extremely disturbing way, Hannah emerges as somewhat victorious in the story. She ends her pain and then she makes everyone who ever hurt her suffer greatly without ever getting the chance to explain their side of the story. Not all of the thirteen reasons are such despicable acts against Hannah. You only see her perspective and she is sometimes wrong and sometimes misguided in thinking every slight is actually about her. Hannah also doesn’t have to witness how she completely and utterly destroys her parents and devastates everyone who ever cared for her. How is it ever fair to saddle someone with the burden of being partially responsible for their death? I really wish that Hannah had shown some regret or remorse about her appalling decision at some point. Unfortunately, the thirteen reasons went from being a plot device to the plot—which overshadowed the real story of the genuine problems Hannah faced—being objectified, stalked and eventually raped. The incredibly abrupt ending left all of the characters in unresolved crisis and one sadly following in Hannah’s ghastly footsteps. The trail of devastation she left behind with her plan actually made me less sympathetic to her plight. Could she really have wished for such dire outcomes for everybody?
The question is should you let your teen watch this series? If this show proves anything, it’s that each child is unique and handles difficult situations differently. What could be an eye-opening and life affirming experience for one could trigger a spiral towards depression for another. Family values and faith must also be considered when making this personal choice. If I could give one piece of advice when dealing with the scary subject of teen suicide? I’d say to take a lesson from Clay’s final moments of the show and try to reach out and show a little kindness. Of one thing I’m sure—that will never be a decision to regret.
Note: Producers have just confirmed that there will be a second season of the series that will chronicle the aftermath of Hannah’s suicide. Hopefully this will tie up some of the loose ends for everyone involved in the tragedy.