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New Netflix series tackles tough topics

Photo credit: Netflix

Photo credit: Netflix

By Alex Harring, Managing Editor

Loosely based on the book of the same name, Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” explores the events leading up to a teenage girl’s suicide in a chilling, nonlinear narrative of her life.

Enter Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). She’s cool and alternative, but like most teenagers, she wants to fit in. She’s the protagonist of the story, almost like Belle in her provincial town in “Beauty and the Beast.” She dreams of going to college in New York and becoming a writer and moving on.

Baker records 13 tapes before she kills herself—her swan song to the people that let her down. Each episode covers a side of a tape, which depicts one person and one reason she ended her life. As her love interest Clay (Dylan Minnette) listens to Hannah’s cold voice on his cassette player, he slowly transforms into an aimless crusader, attempting to avenge the people who have wronged her.

The show is a marathon. It’s intriguing and gritty at first. As it goes, it becomes more down-tempo, but it’s never slow. Hannah is meticulous and detailed, never  boring. As she discloses her 13 reasons via her cassettes, both she and Clay, as well as the people he encounters, change. There is a silent momentum that builds through the season, and it is seen mainly through the character development.

“13 Reasons Why” is a coming-of-age story. As Clay works through the tapes, Hannah’s character and story become more transparent as her plight unfolds. Clay also evolves and transforms into an adult throughout the 13-episode season. He struggles with the truth and keeping his reputation, and his character changes every which way as he listens. He clearly matures as he grapples with Hannah’s death and the burden of the tapes. His search for truth and peace takes him on a personal journey that makes the show dynamic and dark.

There is a lot going on. Hannah details stories of rape and gossip and sexualiy that can be sometimes graphic or hard to watch. When the show isn’t in a flashback to Hannah’s life, there are issues of abuse and underage drinking married with a lawsuit against the school by Hannah’s parents and an ongoing investigation into the cause of her suicide.

Perhaps what is most intriguing about “13 Reasons Why” is the end. After Clay makes it through all 13 tapes, there is no magical, logic-defying happy ending. Hannah is still gone.

It’s sad, but it’s real. It breaks away from childish shows like “Degrassi” that have tried to tackle similar issues because the tragedy isn’t overdone. As the show moves, Hannah whispers in Clay’s ears, and the supporting characters react, but there isn’t the ongoing cycle of problems that makes “Degrassi” and other teen dramas seem fake.

The writing and acting is very well done, but some parts of the show don’t stack up. It’s obvious that they’re actors. They wear bright purple lipstick and poorly blended  foundation give it away. And there are a lot of loose ends left untied in the final episode. But who knows, maybe there’s a season two coming.

Make no mistake, “13 Reasons Why” doesn’t paint problems like suicide and rape as comical or satirical. The show is paired with “Beyond 13 Reasons Why,” a 30-minute documentary about suicide prevention with the cast, executive producer Selena Gomez and the creative team.  It’s a must-watch because it truthfully covers heavy, real-life issues many face in middle and high school.

“13 Reasons Why” isn’t gruesome or downright scary, but it’s chilling and thought-provoking nonetheless.

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