The days of claiming that there is nothing to watch on television seem to be a saying of the past. It is amazing the number of quality shows you can watch, DVR, or stream at any given time. No longer constrained by the strict ratings of commercializing programming channels (i.e. CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox), there are outlets for cable programming and streaming services such as HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, TNT, FX, Netflix Originals, and Amazon Prime Original Series; just to name a few. Also gone are the days of Hollywood actors and actresses “thumbing their noses” at television regarding it as something they would do when the courtship of Hollywood had worn off. Some of the Hollywood actors/actresses’ notables that have made that transition from the big screen to the small screen are Keiffer Sutherland (24 and Designator Survivor), Terrance Howard (Empire), Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder), Jennifer Lopez (Shades of Blue), and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards). This is due to the quality programming television offers and the freedom and creativity that they now have that they did not have before. So, to celebrate the genius of television, each month I will highlight a TV show/series to help navigate through the plethora of outstanding programming of today. For the month of April, the series highlight is Netflix’s Original series, 13 Reasons Why.
13 Reasons Why is based on the series of young adult novels written by Jay Asher in 2007. The Netflix Original 13-part series tells a story of a young teenager named Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who commits suicide but leaves a series of tapes behind explaining the reasons why she made this tragic decision. The series begins with Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), a friend of Hannah, returning home from school to find a box of cassette tapes with his name on it on his front porch. When he begins to play the cassette tapes, he is shocked to hear the voice of Hannah who committed suicide two weeks earlier. This begins his emotional journey of discovering the reasons, or the people, that led to her decision to end her life. He soon discovers the complexity of Hannah and that everyone she names on the tape, even his, are the reasons she committed suicide.
This story takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions from confusion to empathy to disgust to vengeance to anger to exasperation. During each episode of the series, I found myself diagnosing each character trying to find clues that contributed to Hannah’s death. For example, Alex (Miles Heizer), like Hannah, new to the school and one-time close friend, is seduced by popularity and starts to question the person he has become. Then there is Jessica (Alisa Boe), Hannah’s “closest friend” who finds an attraction with Alex that tears their friendship apart. Zach (Ross Butler), the popular basketball player loved by everyone and seems to have everything, but his home life shows differently. Tony (Christian Navarro) the high school “bad boy” that everyone respects or fears has another identity that would change how his peers view him if they find out. Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) the “brainy girl” raised by unconventional parents who are trying to be conventional herself but her secret claims otherwise. Justin (Brandon Flynn) popular “jock” who lives in a broken abusive home starving to be loved by anyone. Lastly, Bryce (Justine Prentice), everyone’s favorite rich party boy who seems to have the world at his feet. But, is he whom he appears to be or there is something much darker hiding within?
The uniqueness of characters adds to the complexity of the storyline. It an episodic onion, as soon as you peel one layer, there is another, then another then another. It keeps you intrigued until the end. As the credits began to roll after the last episode, I put the remote down, had a drink, leaned back in my recliner, and was forced on a journey of self-evaluation. Emotionally, I was spent. There are very few television series or shows that rival the emotions that I get from watching films. It captured me and locked me in and before I knew it, within a two-day span, I had consumed all thirteen episodes. There have been only two other Netflix series that have kept me enthralled like this, Stranger Things and To Catch a Murderer.
There has been criticism of the series by some suicide prevention groups that stated that it did more harm than good. As reported by The New York Daily News the prevention groups are concerned that some viewers may over-identify with Hannah in the series and as a result may lead to more suicides. I am not on either side of that fence, but I do think that this will cause discussion and introspect and challenge the viewer to find answers within themselves about relationships. No one never knows what someone else is going through and the challenges he or she may be facing. Not only is 13 Reasons Why entertaining, but it is also insightful.