Dealing with grief and suffering is not an easy topic to cover and can come off as something overly dramatic and not serve a larger purpose than to make you sad. The young adult age has no shortage of tales of people being marginalized and looking for someone to help. 13 Reasons Why spends an entire season looking at how one person's life can become one in which they personally do not feel their existence make the people around them better and their own personal grief would be most easily solved through taking their own life. It's a heavy subject to focus an entire series on and it really worked as a mature, unflinching look at someone struggling to move along in the world without any friends to support them.
The story starts off introducing Hannah, a girl who took her own life but before doing so recorded thirteen tapes with reasons why she decided to take her own life. Unfortunately it begins kind of cheesy and cliche with a "I'm not a normal girl, I'm edgy and unique" and that was really off putting for me. After a few episodes that feeling went away as you get to know her and the things other people have done, but it still takes a while to sympathize as some of the things that get her very upset are seemingly minor things that to most people are just a little mean and not as entirely soul crushing as they were for her. Looking back on it however it's easy to see why little things blow up in her mind. Any one that finds something mildly annoying given enough time can find it infuriating.
What I really loved about this show is that it didn't dumb things down. It was honest with its characters and its struggles and how kids, teenagers specifically, swear, fight and deal with things on their own, keep secrets from their parents because it's their life and they want to deal with everything themselves. Everyone has their own moral code they want to stick to and sometimes telling a parent about what is going on just never seems like the right thing to do. Communication becomes a large part of the story and dealing with the consequences of actions to serve a greater good becomes a central conflict as the actions explained by Hannah if taken seriously would mean a good deal of trouble for those named but not talking about it can be just as bad.
My only concern with this show is that while it does not glorify death it does deal in some very depressing topics and ones that may hit too close to home in some instances and it worries me that it may not help those who are feeling extremely depressed and suicidal because we know that Hannah's way out was through suicide and could early on help double down on those feelings. The show does a good job showing there were people who care but it might just all be too real for some. It is not an easy watch by any means and is one for older teens and up. There is swearing and sex and drinking and some pretty graphic scenes but ones that aren't gratuitous in nature and really not out of the realm of what teenagers see in movies or at least knows happens.
The acting was stellar, every single person was fleshed out and explored with depth and detail that only a show can do. These were kids that all have their own problems and struggles, family life and relationships that get pushed and pulled in some interesting ways. It subtly hints at how others are dealing with the affects of Hannah's loss but also their own personal lifes and how focusing on one person's problems can alienate another's and is really just an extension of the same problem where no one sees it coming but it is right in front of their faces. It is a show that wants you to know that, being kind and trying to connect with others can mean a world of difference to some people, especially those who may be struggling or have been appearing distant and unlike themselves over time.
The direction was great across the board, the intertwining of the past and present was always a wonderful magic trick to watch as they carefully matched up scenes. The cinematography was just as engaging going for a warm, dreamy look at the past, using an anamorphic filter to allow for the background to blur in the same way things shot on anamorphic lenses do to lend a cinematic quality to the story Hannah is telling, giving it a larger than life feel while the rest was shot spherically in cooler tones as a sort of harsh reality in a post Hannah world.
Netflix has brought us a show that is quite frankly an essential story for young adults. It is honest, gripping, deals with a lot of themes people have to deal with in their lives and presents them in a way that isn't dry or overly depressing. It is an even handed attempt at exploring the lives of teenagers and the struggles they all face on a day to day basis and how if everyone were a bit more attentive and tried just a little more to be nice to one another things could have gone a lot different. However it also presents the case that making the mistake once doesn't mean you have to make it again and moving forward and not blaming yourself is just as important.