A review of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why by Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter — described the 13-episode series as “an honorably mature piece of young-adult adaptation.” Another reviewer from Forbes — was impressed enough to name the high school drama — “one of Netflix’s best shows in years” — based on how it’s “allowed to present more of an authentic, uncensored, version of high school than anything we see on broadcast networks or cable.”
It’s certainly easy to be seduced by the suave tempo of 13 Reasons Why- especially with the accompaniment of a well-furnished soundtrack that captures the euphoria of youth that swelters in the climate of romanticized chaos.
Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) is the lovely and wounded sacrificial lamb who kills herself after weathering the agonizing consequences of teenage woes — that include the platter of expectations that aren’t easily escapable. The uncertainty of bonds — both romantic and platonic — the valiant attempt at wooing friend and foe without the threat of systematic rejection — and the almost avoided curse of falling victim to the habitual dance of sexual aggression at the behest of hyperactive classmates.
We’re given the scope of Hannah’s inevitable downfall into the abyss of mental and physical trauma after her friend and lingering crush — Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) discovers a mysterious box waiting for him on his porch. As an homage to the eighties — which proved to be a consistent thread for the much-needed “rad effect” — we’re treated to the fact that the contents in the box are “seven double-sided cassette tapes” that Hannah prepared before her self-orchestrated demise.
She has left specific instructions about the way these evidential items should be handled — and each of the recipients have been guilted into participating in the ghostly dance of being charged with the responsibilities of recognizing their tragic role in the emotional breakdown and eventual suicide of the girl they hardly knew.
Against my better judgment — I succumbed to the temptation of watching 13 Reasons Why as a way to assuage any doubt that the experience would be anything but gratifying.
As it turns out — I was justified in my hastiness to classify the much-heralded series as one of the worst offerings of 2017.
It really has a lot to do with the mishandling of a subject that should never undergo the wretched cycle of trendiness as a way to stimulate unbiased interest or loyalty.
The trials of being a wanderlust teen in high school has been relentlessly dramatized in various ways for both the small and big screen — and the universal themes never deviate from the standard fare. We’re never exhausted by the assignment of rooting for the underdog or relieving our personalized connection to the characters that display the catalogue of our impressionable years.
Truth be told — my high school schedule differed greatly from the Americanized script — due to the fact that I attended an all-girls boarding school in Nigeria. It was very much like being in the military — thanks to the regimented environment that required daily 5 am jogs in proper attire — followed by morning assembly.
However, the relations between students and even the school functions that sporadically paired us with boys from neighboring campuses — presented a similar landscape that wasn’t always easy to navigate — especially when the level of maturity didn’t match the matters at hand.
There were tremendously bad days as well as a range of really good ones that sort of piled up to create a pyramid of characterization that was supposed to be the badge of honor that can only be earned from the theft of survival.
Hannah Baker didn’t successfully combat her demons because her story was meant to be the sorrowful version of the poetically damaged heroine who is set up to fail — as a way to celebrate the more sophisticated delivery of the unbearable taboo — that forcibly demands a healthy level of reverence.
Unfortunately, the death scene did very little to coerce my empathy as I casually witnessed a wounded character end her life with the authority of readied lenses that highlighted exactly how the act of suicide rarely unfolds.
The mind-fuck of contemplating whether or not your existence is worth a damn is unspeakably torturous and therefore emphatically violent. By the time the victim arrives at the point of no return — you can be sure that the end result doesn’t reek of theatrical flare — with the scene laid out for boosted measure.
13 Reasons Why was repulsively negligent in it’s ambitious need to drown itself in the entertainment value of presenting characters that were generically constructed for the sheer purpose of manifesting how gorgeous girls die — when they’re not able to handle the burden of blossoming without interference.
The throbbing nature of teen angst is nothing new — but when it leads to the extremes — there has to be an indelible recipe brewing — that challenges our palettes into a feast — that leaves us with a bitterness that can’t be easily rinsed with beautiful faces, ear-catching tracks or the retro-chic adulation of an era that deserves to be utilized in a more inspiring arena.
Hannah dies — and the mission of elevating the complexity of human nature as it pertains to emotional volatility for the benefit of those who need it the most — perishes with her.
There will be more to come, which is no surprise — but the damage is already done and we certainly don’t need thirteen reasons to explain the consequences of such a mess.