’13 REASONS WHY’ (2017) TV REVIEW (NO SPOILERS) – “If You’re Listening to This Tape…. You’re One of the Reasons Why.”
13 Reasons Why is a show that until only a few days ago had completely slipped under my radar, and after 5 recommendations in a single day i decided to dedicate the last 2 days to binging the whole show. And WOW, just WOW….. i really didn’t know what to expect going into it, i didn’t watch the trailer and just went into it with a very basic one line synopsis and i loved it. It is all shades of beautiful, sad, hopeful, and depressing, and it takes you on an emotional journey with a group of characters so very well explored and fleshed out that you really do care and are invested in every single one of them. So in the show, when student Hannah Baker ends her life she leaves behind 13 tapes detailing the reasons why she did such a thing, and it is up to her classmate Clay Jensen to listen and uncover the story behind her actions. This show is a mystery drama that delves heavily into themes of teenage bullying, depression, mental health, and suicide and really doesn’t hold back making everything seem so confronting and real.
One thing that makes this show so engaging from start to finish is down to the characters and how they are expertly written, fantastically developed, and fleshed out in ways that really let you know every one of them equally. One problem this show could have very easily had is having fully developed Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker but then not had enough time spent on really delving into the other supporting cast not allowing the audience to buy into this group dynamic. But it spends a very equal amount of time on each of the characters, all coming back to Clay and Hannah of course, but it all helps in establishing the relationships in play and how all of the different characters link and relate to each other. Without these well developed characters this show turns to shit, the story hinges on you caring about all of these personalities in one way or another so that any and all emotional impact is effective. So in terms of handling a large group of what are essentially main roles this show did that with utter perfection.
But it isn’t just the writing that is crucial in crafting these characters and getting invested in each of their stories, the performances from all of the actors needed to be near flawless in order to be able to buy into everything that goes down. Dylan Minnette (‘Goosebumps’, ‘Don’t Breath’) plays Clay Jensen and his performance was unbelievably powerful, being the one listening to the tapes just as we are he is that bridge into the story for the audience. So it is essential that he is able to convey every emotion with conviction and bring us into the story and that is exactly what he did. He brings some humour to the show when needed and when it gets dark he is able to go to those places and he has some chilling scenes throughout the show. Katherine Langford plays Hannah Baker and for a new actress on the scene she was damn-right incredible. Because of her performance you fall in love with her character despite the fact that you know what happens to her. She brings much of the emotion and life to the show and i cannot wait to see what she does beyond this show.
But one thing more important in this show than Clay and Hannah individually is their relationship and how you see it change throughout the course of the show. It is the key focus of this entire show and it is an endlessly fascinating and fulfilling mystery that will have you hooked right to the very end. For the sake of minimising spoilers i won’t go into who all of the other key players are in the story but just know they were all amazing and i have no complaints about any of the performances or the way characters were portrayed.
The way the story is told in this series is done so in a way that it never drags, it never feels like it is going too slow, and it is never confusing at any point despite the fact that you are dealing with lots and lots of crosscutting between the present day and different points in the past. Every episode and every scene is arranged and edited in ways that contain the mystery and holds that suspense only to release it in bursts where you think you know what will happen but it will continue to over and over again surprise you. The constant parallels drawn between the past and present in terms of story and cinematography make for awesome content to revisit a second time. The things the show does with the differing colour pallets for the past and present is beautiful, genius and symbolic. Also the creative ways in which the show cuts from the past to the present and back again are stunning uses of crosscutting and cinematography. No transition seems the same as the one before and there are always lines drawn between the present events shown and the past ones.
One concern i had with the show early on is that it might fall into becoming an episode by episode formulaic structure, sort of but not exactly in the vein of popular crime dramas like ‘CSI’. This is due to the fact that the first 3 episodes or so largely follow a very similar structure. What i was afraid of was that the show would stick to that for all or most of the 13 episodes, it is a structure that isn’t bad but over and over again would be very repetitive. But thankfully that isn’t the case as after then the show goes in many different directions you don’t expect all building towards a satisfying finale.
I would definitely highly recommend checking out this show not only as it is a fantastic story with an engaging mystery and incredible characters but also because it it one of the most important tv shows of recent years. It doesn’t shy away from confronting the issues and themes being explored and avoids sugarcoating what other shows would consider being controversial topics. But the fact is these are real things in the real world and are very relevant today so the fact that this show tackles them head on is very commendable.