Let me start this review off by saying, I was reluctant to write it. In fact, this is the second time I am starting this post because I trashed the original. Right after finishing the finale, I knew I wanted to write a review, but then all this controversy was brought about saying that the show was triggering and inappropriate for viewers. Let’s get one thing straight, Netflix rated the show as TV-MA:
This program may contain one or more of the following: intensely suggestive dialogue (D), strong coarse language (L), intense sexual situations (S), or intense violence (V). Mature Audience Only. This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.
This information was taken from www.tvguidelines.org, but basically, this rating is the TV equivalent of a movie being rated R. I know the book is labelled as YA Fiction, so teens will most likely have read it (or those who are adults now may have read it while still a teenager). This is an appropriate rating because of the nature of violence, language, a graphic images that we don’t seem to care about as much in books. These things matter more when they are being portrayed visually. Now that I think about it, that’s a bit of a double standard, but I suppose it does make some sense.
The main argument I have heard against the show is that it is inappropriate for young viewers. Now, I can see why this is a problem in several ways:
1) Parents should have some say in what their child sees or doesn’t see. I think anyone under the age of 15 should probably steer clear of this show because the situations would be above their current level of experience, and again it is a very graphic show. That said, I do believe it is okay for teens under 17 to see R rated (or TV-MA) programs as long as they and their parents have come to the conclusion that they are ready for it. I won’t lie, I was watching American Horror story and plenty of R-rated movies with sex and violence when I was 16. Because I knew, and my mother knew, that I was mature enough to watch them. It’s a joint effort I think to watch something so emotionally taxing and I wouldn’t see anything wrong with a parent watching the program with their child.
Maybe this is an issue that could be avoided in the future by different parental permissions being set on Netflix accounts. Maybe greater security needs to be implemented for accounts that are used by multiple people in one household so that parents are more aware of the mature content that their children are watching. It’s all just out there on Netflix right now with nothing to block mature shows from younger viewers (as far as I know).
2) With what I said in the previous point, it is a personal choice to watch and/or mature content. As stated above, you have to know that you are ready for it, that you won’t let this fiction affect real life. To hammer in my American Horror Story anecdote, I stopped watching after the premiere of season 5. At that point I was 18 years old, but the content of that premiere episode was a bit too much for me. It was creepy and bloody and sexual and it made me uncomfortable enough to stop watching altogether. I may go back and watch this show again, but at that point I knew I was not ready to continue. At any point during a show or movie, it’s okay to stop watching if you are not comfortable with what is being shown on screen. I think this is SO important to remember.
3) I’ll only briefly touch upon my stance on this next one because it’s similar to those above. Those who are suicidal, depressed or suffer from any of the issues talked about in the show (i.e. suicide, rape, bullying) should be aware that this show may trigger their bad emotions and decide whether they are able to watch the show based on this. Of course this show is going to be difficult to watch for anyone, so those who relate too closely should 100% be aware that it may not be the show for them.
I was disturbed myself as I watched Hannah slit her wrists and bleed out. That was the point. The whole point of the show was to hammer in to our minds the effects of suicide on everyone in a person’s life. In this way, the show-runners and actors did very well. In others, I do have a few criticisms.
Technically speaking, this is what I liked:
Dylan Minette and Katherine Langford were great in my opinion. The depiction of Hannah Baker as a conflicted young girl going through the most difficult experiences anyone could think of having at that age was so riveting. I was really impressed by the newness of these star actors. They’re both quite new to the Hollywood scene and that’s one of my favorite parts of this show. They feel more like regular high school students because I have nothing to compare them to having never seen either of them act in anything else. There’s also the comparison factor between Dylan’s looks and Logan Lerman:
I don’t really see it past the simple fact that they both have dark brown hair and blue eyes. The similarities stop there for me, aside from them both being great actors, but maybe I’m the only one who didn’t immediately compare the two.
Of course the rest of the cast was also impressive, I think everyone had an important role in the narrative and each of the actors did very well in their respective roles.
From a technical standpoint, I think the show was shot very creatively and also edited very well. I was never confused by where the story was going in terms for present vs. flashback/hallucination scenes. The narration was cleverly placed and always made sense and I loved the way the scenes blended together and reflected each other in the past and present.
This is kind of a small thing, but I really like the soundtrack for the show and how the songs carried over into the credits for each episode making each one unique and giving a different emotional quality to each one.
I have not read this book. I know, sure me. I am a huge proponent of reading the books before watching the adaptations, but sometimes it’s nice to go into something blind. Adaptations are always bound to be different from the original material in some ways because the page works much differently to the screen. There isn’t always an effective way to portray every specific detail that was written on the page. On the other hand, I had assumed that this story wouldn’t stray too far anyways because it’s a 13 episode (totaling about 13 hours) rather than a short 2 hour film. In shows like this that are based off a single book, there is so much more room for detail and character exploration, so I went in with the hopes that it would be an accurate adaptation despite not having read the book beforehand.
What I didn’t like quite so much:
It only seems fair to talk about the things i didn’t like that much after praising the show so much becuase nothing is ever perfect. Part of my dislike may come from the fact that I am no longer a teenager (I mean, I’m only 20, but I’ve still grown up a bit) and I am over the melodramatic acting in teen-targeted shows. As I stated at the beginning of this post, 13 Reasons Why is rated an audience over 17 years old, but the characters in the show are around age 16. There were times when I felt like the side characters were being a little too dramatic or existential in some way. I suppose this is how teenagers feel and act. My experience wasn’t quite that way, but I’ll accept that this portrayal is something of an accurate one.
I was lucky. I went to a performing arts high school that was accepting of all races, personalities, sexuality, and quirks. I never felt bullied or abused. I was never in a situation where I felt in danger or assault. I am grateful that my high school experience was low on both drama and trauma, but I know other people are not quite so lucky. It is hard for me to imagine myself or anyone else in the shoes of these characters, I know these things happen but I will never understand how people can be so cruel to each other.
My largest criticism is partly with the story itself. Hannah Baker leaves 13 tapes for people to listen to after she is gone. In each tape, she singles out one person and lets them know what part they played in causing her to turn to suicide. I really hated the overall premise of the tapes because they were made to blame those around her for her suicide. It’s important for everyone to know that it’s never anyone’s fault that a friend or a loved one takes their own life. Suicide is so much more complicated than one instance of betrayal or harm. The fact that the show (possibly the book as well, I wouldn’t know) never talks about Hannah having suffered from depression or anxiety, really any sort of mental illness that may have been linked to suicidal thoughts seems like a missed opportunity. The show-runners wanted to show the audience about how suicide affects other people, but they seem to have done so by saying that other people are to blame. I know that at the end there are lines like “It’s not your fault” or “suicide is never someone else’s fault” stuff like that, but they never clarified what other reasons Hannah may have had. It was obvious that she had experienced a lot of trauma in her year of school there, so maybe they thought the audience would imply that her major struggle was with depression. I just think they should have clarified that in some way rather than making the whole message about getting revenge on the people who bullied you or were passive bystanders to your bullying. Revenge is not a good answer to anything, but I understand that this is the whole plot of the story.
That turned into a bit of a rant as I kept writing but I think that’s a good thing. I wrote what I think and I’ll stand by it. Let me know what you thought of this show in the comments below, and remember a little healthy debate is always welcome but stay friendly and understanding of the views of others please 🙂
Edit: I wrote this post about a week before it went up and just now, Sunday—the day before this post is going up—I found out that someone close to my family tried to end their own life last night. This is scary to me, even far away as I don’t go home from school for another 2 weeks, because I know this person well enough to know that they should have been getting help already. I am sad to hear that they went to these lengths even when their has always been the support of family on their side. I’m not going to go into detail about the many factors in their life because that is private information and this is still very fresh and painful in my household. But I do want to repeat some of what I said at the beginning of this post.
Suicide is never someone else’s fault. There are so many outside forces that can cause someone to go to these lengths, but it is still scary for anyone involved. Before today, I had never been close to anyone who went through this. I am glad she didn’t succeed. I hope and pray that now she can get all of the help she needs to recover. And once again, if you or anyone you know are going through something like this please take advantage of resources and confide in someone you trust.
Love and kindness,