April 6th 2017
Today I finished watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. It’s a Netflix original series that’s based on a book of the same name that I read a few years ago. I didn’t even know they were making it into a TV show until a couple of weeks ago. I was in Waterstones and saw the book, with a new cover – and the ‘Now a Netflix Original Series’ sticker.
Usually, it really annoys me to see a book that’s been made into a movie be re-published with the movie stars on the front cover (see: The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit, Never Let Me Go, Me Before You, I Robot, Pride And Prejudice & Twilight) But on this occasion, it caught my eye. Partly because it was a Netflix series the book was being made into, not a movie.
Because it said ‘Now a Netflix original series‘ I rushed home, told Alice, loaded up Netflix and searched – but it wasn’t there. Turns out it didn’t air until March 31st, or last Friday. So we had to wait a while.
We watched six episodes on the day it came out, and tonight we finished watching the last episode, and it was incredible.
Either it had been a while since I’d read the book, or because they’d changed the format a bit into a longer, more in-depth TV series, I couldn’t always remember completely what happened – which was good. (from here, I’m talking about the TV series, not the book)
Here’s the trailer, but I’ll explain the basic plot of the show briefly anyway:
The premise behind 13 Reasons Why is that a high school girl, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, and leaves cassette tapes behind that document the reasons that she did it. The show begins shortly after her suicide, with the lead (living) character, Clay Jensen, receiving a package. In the package are 7 double-sided cassette tapes. He figures out a way of playing the tapes with an old Walkman and a pair of Beats by Dre headphones (#PRODUCTPLACEMENT – although, it’s interesting that they photoshopped the Beats logo from the headphones on the book cover, maybe the deal didn’t spread that far).
He starts listening to the tapes from Tape 1, Side A, which is the name of the first episode.
The tapes are Hannah’s suicide note. 13 people are responsible for her suicide, and each of them get a tape describing how they contributed to her death. Following her suicide, they were delivered to the person on Tape 1, who was instructed to listen to them all, and pass them on to the person on Tape 2, and so on.
Throughout the tapes we learn what drove Hannah to commit suicide, and with cuts between the present and the past, the show tells each of the thirteen stories, whilst telling the whole, overall story.
On the face of it, the show seems like a bit of a basic high-school drama. And there are all of those aspects to it, school dances, the basketball team, cheerleaders, etc, but it’s far deeper, and darker than anything I’ve seen in the genre before.
In episode 7 we find out that Hannah witnessed a rape, in episode 12 we found out that she was raped herself. The way that the show deals with that subject is so raw, and real that it’s painful to watch at times. They even show it, in one take, from a wide shot and one slow zooming camera movement until all you can see are her eyes.
The director of that episode said that they didn’t want it to be needlessly gratuitous, and it wasn’t. They had to show it. It wouldn’t have felt as real if they didn’t.
And in episode 13 they showed her suicide. It made me feel so uncomfortable, but it was supposed to. I can’t imagine what effect it would have on other people – to whom the issue is more prevalent.
As well as the powerful writing, the production of the show was immense. One of my favourite parts of it was the intricate, intelligent ways in which they transitioned from present to past and back again. On the tapes, Hannah would describe the location where one of the incidents took place, and Clay would be there in the present. He’d arrive at a house in the present, but the camera spins, or travels through a window and shows on screen what’s happening in the past, as Hannah’s describing it. To give the illusion of going from present to past without breaking take. Or often, Present Clay and Past Hannah will appear to be in the same place at the same time, but we – and Clay – are just seeing what she is describing.
It’s so clever. Those little intricacies are what make a good show great, in my opinion. It’s like threaded text messages. One thing that always annoys me in film and television is that whenever someone gets a text – usually on an iPhone – that text is always the first message in the conversation. Are we supposed to believe that this is the first time that these people have text each other? Or if not, who deletes every text they receive? I get that we’re only supposed to be interested in the text that they’ve just received, but it’s not realistic.
Every time someone gets a text in 13 Reasons Why, there’s a thread of text messages before the text that we’re supposed to be interested in. And it’s those little intricacies and nuances that make it a great show.
Honestly, the show is just so good. It’s the exact kind of thing that I want to be able to write some day. Clever, and meaningful, and powerful, and emotional, and… really, really great. It tells an amazing story, that will mean so much to so many people, and it does it beautifully, with humour, with taste, with intelligence, and with truth.
It’s not often that I say this, but it was probably better than the book…
Until tomorrow, watch it.