“Hey, it’s Hannah. Hannah Baker.”
How would you respond to the dead calling? What if you had killed them?
The 13 responsible for the death of Hannah Baker, and their reactions to having their dirty laundry aired via explanatory tapes she left behind, are the subject of Netflix’s new series, based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher.
“13 Reasons Why” demands drama; the screenwriters and largely unknown cast of youths almost over-deliver. Narrated by intensely foreboding, occasionally snarky, one-lined voiceovers from Hannah (Katherine Langford), the episodes simply drip drama all over your Netflix queue.
Baker’s tapes detail each event that she feels motivated her to commit suicide, perpetrated by one of the receivers of the tapes. These are told in flashbacks while a bewildered Clay Jensen, (Dylan Minnette), hears the tales for the first time. These flashbacks, combined with Clay’s present-day confrontations and mental episodes, create a timeline that viewers have to intently follow, or risk being lost until the next tape begins.
The plot itself also has several holes, the most glaring of which is plausibility. The likelihood of these tapes, their secrecy and parents being that oblivious is low. However, the series brings to light a much-needed confrontation of bullying and assault within the school system.
It’s raw; the rare Netflix viewer discretion warning that precedes a handful of episodes should tell you that. Unapologetically real depictions of rape, assault, suicide, pure, unadulterated guilt and even worse, denial, are not for the faint of heart, or for the easily upset stomach.
Of all the dramatic nuances, though difficult to stomach, these are the most important. Building slowly at first, these graphic scenes give weight and momentum to the back half of the series as the audience creeps closer to the end they know is coming.
At times, this wait can feel drawn-out; 13 episodes are a lot to precede an ending that is announced before the very first title screen, with little hope of recourse. Combined with not having any sort of contrastingly upbeat episode and many, many meetings of the nervous tape receivers suggesting the same unrealistic murder of Clay Jensen, many viewers may choose to switch back to binge-watching a happier favorite.
On this ever-climactic stage, the actors deliver on a hit-or-miss basis. Far and away the anchoring, brilliant performance by Kate Walsh is the series’ crown jewel. Even those without children can be pulled in, and feel their stomachs twist at her heartbreaking grief and confusion over her daughter’s suicide.
Langford manages to slowly lose her moxie and confident attitude at a consistent pace, in response to those 13 events. While the multitude of angsty voiceovers lessen their impact, she delivers them all with just the right amount of attitude, and without the slightest hint of her rather strong, real-life British accent.
Some of the misses include a deadpan performance from closeted lesbian and Hannah Baker denouncer Courtney (Michele Selene Ang), and an underwhelming portrayal of guidance counselor Mr. Porter (Derek Luke).
The series was executively produced by Selena Gomez and her mother, Mandy Teefey, and concludes with the bread-crumbed possibility for a second season.