13 Reasons Why: An Imperfectly Executed Adaptation With A Strong Message

13 Reasons Why became quite the moot hit for Netflix overnight. It is debatable whether 13 Reasons Why’s popularity stemmed from its pioneering look into dark-themed subject maters such as bullying, harassment, rape etc; Or from teen pop icon Selena Gomez being an executive producer for the series. I’m sure both factor played a big part in getting the series over as much as it did, and being an adaptation of the Jay Asher best-selling novel – with the same title – couldn’t be anything else but a selling point for the series too. 13 Reasons Why tells the story of Clay Jensen, a teenager still recovering from his friend’s suicide finds a package on his doorstep containing 7 audio cassettes made by Hannah explaining the 13 reasons why she killed herself. The audience is almost immediately set up with the promise of delivering some sensible answers to the reasons behind Hannah’s suicide. But unfortunately that is a promise 13 Reasons Why hardly delivers on. Don’t get me wrong, the story being told here is an important one, and the message it portrays is very serious. Many people might’ve faced similar situations and had similar experiences as Hannah. The problem with a show like this is the emotional connection one can have, skews their perception on its delivery.

How 13 Reasons Why’s drawn-out plot affected its mysteries and characters

13 Reasons Why definitely got off to an intriguing start and had a heart-wrenching end; but made for a prolonging experience throughout most of its 13 episodes. I can understand the strategic irony behind having 13 episodes to represent Hannah’s 13 Reasons, but there just wasn’t enough content to fill these 13 episodes, and in my opinion the series would’ve done better with 7 episodes to represent the 7 tapes that were made. Or maybe even 13 ‘30-minute‘ episodes. A good story got drawn out by overstaying its welcome, and 13 Reasons Why’s 13-hour movie format was the root of many other issues. To fill the time 13 Reasons Why threw in side mysteries that felt lackluster and uninspired. Which of course didn’t get any real payoffs and seemed to have been forgotten by the script sometime after. Even the main mysteries themselves showed no surprises when they were revealed because in the mist of a drawn out narrative we saw the truth coming from a mile away. While this series aim at depicting how minor teen problems can turn into something serious, the series took its time getting to the point of seriousness. And our 2 main characters payed the price too. Because most of her reasons were no-big-deal to some viewers Hannah became quite an angsty, self-centered and unreasonable character blaming everyone for her problems even from beyond the grave. Hannah overreacts to almost every trivial matter in her life, but is inaudible to the consequential ones. And yes that could be the true motive behind the tapes, to let her voice be heard, but Hannah blames a lot of people who shouldn’t have been blame. She runs through her 13 reasons without any consideration whatsoever that her overreactions might’ve been the initiator to her many fall-outs.

Clay is our 2nd main character, and it’s uncertain whether this character is intentionally clueless or just badly written; but I know I wasn’t the only one screaming at a screen telling this irrationally confused boy to “listen to the fucking tapes and ask questions later!“. Him riding around interrogating everyone involved instead of just finishing the tapes himself was very infuriating to watch. From very early on in the series we are promised that Clay did something terrible to Hannah on the tapes. It’s one of the main points made for why Clay is so unhurried in finishing them, and other characters frequently point out to Clay that he shouldn’t be blaming people considering what the tapes said he did. There were no surprises in the reveal of Clay’s mystery, but it was also a big disappointment because the series made its audience wait for so long for a reveal presumed to be big, to once again not deliver on its promise. This was just one of several plot-holes many might have missed due the arousing subject matter. Tony is the person Hannah enlists to take care of the tapes, and this character also felt like a huge plot-hole. He was unnecessarily cryptic and the similar to Clay the reveal of his “mystery” was also a huge disappointment. By the end of the season this character as a whole wasn’t necessary to the plot but was over-hyped to being one of its most important component.

13 Reasons Why should’ve put in more effort in being realistic and depicting modern society. 

The cast on this series look like they came straight out of a Calvin Klein magazine. Teenagers are the main target audience for this series so it is understandable that the gorgeous faces and hot bodies would be appealing to the majority of viewers watching. But most ‘high school‘ characters in this series is played by an actors/actresses with minimum 20 years of age, and it shows. I do understand it can be difficult to cast actual teenagers in these time consuming roles, but it feels like they just didn’t care enough or didn’t put in enough effort to hunt and gather a youthful looking cast. Age is the least of my problem with this cast though. With the exception of  Katherine Langford (Hannah) and Dylan Minnette (Clay), the rest of the cast had such an emotionless approach to acting. Christian Navarro (Tony) was the head in that department, with his acting being even more vague than the badly written character.

 I can’t help but think that this series would’ve been better if it was written by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), or even Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks). But at the same time I’m satisfied that 13 Reasons Why didn’t take an extremely stereotypical approach to depicting high school. But for a series depicting modern society 13 Reasons Why did show signs of being a bit outdated. In today’s age of Twitter and Instagram I cannot see today’s teenagers making such a big fuss over a non-nude panty-shot photo. Maybe in 2007 when the adapted book was written but certainly not today. And another flaw is that there was never any added effort from the writers part to make the series more contemporary even though modern technology is shown.

13 Reasons Why was still able to deliver a strong message despite its many flaws

One of 13 Reason Why’s more commendable attributes was its cinematography & editing. The cinematographic transitions between past and present by using a yellow hue to a blue is really great, it gives an understanding of what you’re watching without spelling it out, but never allowing you to feel lost in the story. Some scenes which intended to being dark and gloomy missed the mark and just came off as dull, but for a series that took its time developing into something serious it had nothing much to offer other than its steady gloomy tone, well done cinematography and pretty faces to look at. But once it got serious, that’s when it really got going. Though the flaws in writing and characters were still present, the 3 last episode in season 1 of the series made for compelling viewing. The message was clear as 13 Reasons Why showed us hold simple discourtesies can turn into serious situations down the line. They made it very clear that suicide is a messy business for everyone involved and they showed the person committing suicide doesn’t fully understand their reality. There were some disturbing rape scenes which was followed up by a very heart-wrenching and depressing bathroom scene, and with that 13 Reasons Why had 2-3 well-done scenes that may have left on impact on the emotionally tendered. But 3 good episodes weren’t enough to solidify this show as great. Though it may be essential viewing for many this shows fails where good writing and acting is concerned.