Review: Novel’s mediocre Netflix debut

‘13 Reasons Why’ tries too hard, reaches for drama

There’s teen drama. And then there’s Netflix’s new drama “13 Reasons Why,” based off the popular novel of the same name by Jay Asher.

As a drama, “13 Reasons Why” is a stark, brooding look at the consequences of bullying.

Within the first few minutes of the show, the audience learns that high school student Hannah Baker, a pretty, seemingly normal high school student, played by Katherine Langford with a biting and dry sense of humor, has committed suicide.

The suicide is sudden and alarming for the whole community, made only more shocking when Clay Jensen, played by Dylan Minette, discovers a box of tapes on his doorstep.

Hannah left them behind for 13 people to listen to and pass on, each side of the tape describing a story with each individual that she claims paved the road to her death.

Clay is tormented by the tapes but doesn’t have many people he can talk to since the others the tapes describe, and who have heard them, are terrified of the consequences — not just Hannah’s death, but the looming threat that a second pair of tapes Hannah entrusted to an anonymous person will get out.

Each episode of the show chronicles one side of the tapes, while the viewer watches as Clay and the others frantically try to piece together the reasons for Hannah’s suicide.

The show paints a realistic, painful look at the kind of bullying a girl in high school can be plagued with — a cruel, emotional taunting that often labels a girl as something she’s not for the rest of her high school years.

Hannah is the bitter victim of such bullying, as evidenced by the tapes she leaves behind.

Clay is a sweet reminder of the average high school boy in all his smitten, yet naive glory, and Minette adds an earnest determination and slight self-deprecation to the role that is quite charming.

However, while “13 Reasons Why” soars, it also falters.

The viewer is painfully aware of the high school setting, and therefore its trivialities, especially those viewers who are out of high school.

The issues Hannah faces as the audience experiences the events that lead to her death seem blown out of proportion at times, distorted in a way that makes it appear like the show is trying too hard and reaching for drama.

The pilot episode, and much of the second episode as well, suffer from moving too slowly at times, often lingering too much in scenes that desperately need to be cut.

While the main characters Hannah and Clay are pleasing to watch and their chemistry potent, the majority of the surrounding players feel too much like caricatures, with the high school trope of labels, like jocks, cheerleaders and loners, emphasized to the point of eye rolling.

Many of the surrounding characters also appear comically older than Clay and Hannah, with a startling number of 17 year old students sporting obvious tattoos, when they’re supposed to be within only a few years of each other.

The character of Tony looks less like Clay’s high school buddy and more like a 10-years-older Danny from “Grease.”

The blatant age differences in the actors and the heightened drama are more than a bit distracting, but the important messages on bullying and the sharp sting of the reality of teenage suicide are not to be ignored.

Much like high school, “13 Reasons Why” can be a tedious experience, but the lessons you learn are unparalleled.

This article was posted in the section Features.

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