I can’t actually remember when I first read Thirteen Reasons Why, but I do know that it was probably four or five years ago. It had an interesting concept behind it, and covered some ideas around mental health that I hadn’t really read about before, so it definitely left an impression on me. When I heard it was being made into a TV series, I was keen to watch because I remembered younger me enjoying the book.
Now, if you use the internet regularly (which I’m guessing you probably do!), you may have seen that there was a lot of controversy around 13 Reasons Why as a series. There are some areas of it that can be interpreted as problematic, and certain aspects mean that I wouldn’t say it’s suitable for certain age groups. I thought it would be interesting to reflect on my thoughts on the program, as although I did enjoy it, I can see that there are definitely bits which weren’t the best. I would be really interested to hear your opinions as well, and there are some posts I’ve read on the show that I want to mention too.
First of all, I want to draw some trigger warnings to your attention with regards to both the book and the show, as they involve self-harm, suicide, sexual assault, and rape. They do put a warning at the beginning of the episodes in the series in which there are scenes depicting these things occurring (in the UK version for definite, I am unsure about other countries), but they are portrayed very clearly and explicitly, so I must repeat, please do approach this show with caution or don’t watch the show at all if you think you could be triggered.
I remembered these things from the book, and had given myself a quick refresher on the book by checking out the plot summary online before I started the series, so I knew they were coming, but they were definitely much more explicitly depicted than I’d anticipated. Overall, I knew exactly what to expect in terms of the plot, though, as they stuck almost exactly to the structure of the book. I actually really liked the way they approached the storyline in that the plot of the series was basically the plot of the book with lots of other stuff added in. For example, Hannah’s parents came up a lot more than in the book, and they formed a prominent part of one of the subplots. I liked that it didn’t just talk about the tapes, but thought about the wider consequences as well.
In fact, the parents of the teenagers featured fairly frequently, which made a nice change from the usual trope of parents being conveniently absent so they don’t prove a plot obstacle – although most of the parents didn’t do much, which undermined this a little. Obviously you didn’t see as much of the parents of minor characters, but there were developments of most of them, and it was interesting to see the different family situations they lived with. It gave a slightly different perspective on the characters as well, and it was a good way of showing that people can be one person at school and another person at home.
I was very impressed by the acting in the show. While I’m not sure I’m the best judge of this, I thought a lot of the characters were really well done, and it was great to see so many actors that I’d never heard of before. The soundtrack was probably the highlight for me – I absolutely love the music in the series, and have since listened to the songs on YouTube a lot, especially a two-hour-long playlist of them that I found.
There were two other posts written on 13 Reasons Why which I wanted to mention, as the points I’ve made are either mixed or positive because I’m not really sure how to go about phrasing the more negative aspects. These two explained more negative stances and made some very good points very eloquently, so I thought I would direct you to them instead of me trying to give a long and potentially rambling explanation.
One was ‘Sexual Assault, Suicide and Systems Failure: 13 Reasons Why is Not What it Seems’ from Courtney from the Internet, which talks about how the more explicit scenes can be very harmful for some and therefore should not have been included. The other was ’13 Reasons Why is a Bad Show’ from Shaun David Hutchinson, giving his thoughts on the series; I thought his opinions were very eloquent and well-worded. The same trigger warnings as above apply, as they discuss the issues from the show, suicide and the effect the show could have being discussed in particular.
Overall, I really enjoyed the series while I was watching it, but once I’d finished, read around a bit, and gave it some thought, I realised that there were elements which were problematic and harmful too. I think that this is because I focused on the characters, their progressions, and the actual story as I was watching, and only thought about the wider implications and messages afterwards. There’s also a thin line between portraying something honestly or graphically, and for many the show definitely crossed the line.
They’ve recently announced that they’re making a season two, which I don’t really understand to be honest. Aside from a couple of minor cliffhangers at the end of the first season, I don’t really think there’s much else to say – and the cliffhangers could literally be cleared up in ten minutes. However, I probably will end up watching it because I’m kind of interested to see where they take it.
What were your thoughts on the show?